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Ground Is Broken For New Pensacola YMCA

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Representatives from the Studer, Levin and Bear families as well as dozens of others gathered at a steaming hot parking lot on the corner of Tarragona and Intendencia Streets in downtown Pensacola Thursday morning for the groundbreaking of the new downtown YMCA. 

  While almost $12.5 million has been raised for the project from many different sources, more than half the funds came from those three families. Michael Bodenhausen, CEO of the YMCA of Northwest Florida gave thanks to them and credit to many others saying "Over the past six years we've literally had hundreds of volunteers put in thousands of volunteer hours to get to this point."

And while the bulk of the money for the project has already been raised, Terry Levin spoke to the crowd about the continued need for support.

"I hope everyone does engage in some way of giving, whether it be of your time, money, in-kind, voluntering, whatever it is you can give, please give to this YMCA and keep the YMCA healthy and alive."

The drive to replace the 60 year old YMCA building has been going on for years. After an earlier proposal for the Y to lease a parcel at Community Maritime Park was rejected, Quint and Rishy Studer donated the land where today’s ceremony took place. Quint Studer says it’s good to see shovels finally hit the ground for the project. 

"We had that false start early on, with parcel 8, but I think you hit an obstacle and the main thing is, it's an obstacle, it's not a barrier. You just have to look for other opportunities and we are appreciative that this land was available for sale and we could purchase it and we're excited and we appreciate the Bear Family, the Levin Family, the Switzer family, and so on for really stepping up to the plate because once you get over 50% of your fundraising done then you know it's a possibility."

Studer also says he has seen the positive effects of having a modern, downtown YMCA in cities across the country.

"I was in Aberdeen, South Dakota and they have a downtown Y. I was in Denver and they had a downtown Y, you go to Minneapolis and a great vibrant downtown Y. To me it just made sense... every great city had a great YMCA."

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward grabbed a shovel and helped with the groundbreaking. He says it’s good to see the private and public sectors working together.

"It's all about the community, how can we give back to the community? I think if you look at the psychology of what's happened the past five years with the private sector , with the public sector saying, 'hey, Pensacola, we're a city and a county of winners and we want to give back and give to the community.' And you have the philanthropic community step up, obviously with the Bears, the Levins, and the Studers, obviously the amount of development Quint Studer has been doing, and other people in the community that are willing to take a risk and bet on Pensacola- I think that's huge."

And with the breaking of ground Thursday morning it looks like some of those risks are paying off. CEO Michael Bodenhausen says the level of support in town is impressive.

"I've been in the Y for over 30 years: this community understands and sees the needs of a YMCA and how it can serve the community and fill some gaps."

Bodenhausen says that wide support will help keep the pricing at a level where all members of the community will be able to participate in the new facility. And what about the upgrades in the facility?

"I don't know where to begin as far as upgrades are concerned! Anywhere from parking, we're going to have a parking deck. We're going to have two pools. It's going to be accessible to everyone, it's going to be handicap accessible. We're going to have a lap lane pool, a four lane pool, 9,000 square feet of excercise facilities, most important an education facility donated by Gulf POwer. It's going to be a demo kitchen, it's going to have video conferencing so people can understand how to cook, how to eat healthy. We have exercise rooms, multipurpose rooms, community rooms- I don't know what isn't an upgrade! I mean, even the front desk, parking, everything is an upgrade."

With Thursday’s groundbreaking, construction will soon be underway. The hope is that there will be a new downtown Pensacola YMCA open for business before January, 2017.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.