New YMCA means big things for NWLA

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The fitness industry isn’t always just about improving one’s personal health, it can also serve to improve the health of the entire community. The YMCA of Northwest Louisiana is proving that their new $17.8 million facility off East Preston Avenue in Shreveport can not only serve their 2,800 members, but improve the quality of life for current/potential residents and the overall economy.

The gleaming new structure that looks almost otherworldly when driving down Clyde Fant Parkway was a huge undertaking that began life almost a decade ago in 2007 when the YMCA started a campaign to renovate the Broadmoor branch — which hadn’t been updated since its construction in 1966 — but soon changed course when the chance to build a new, state of the art facility cropped up. It was then that BHP Billiton stepped forward with a partnership providing the land and financing that is a game changer for the YMCA and community as a whole. The global mining and petroleum company seeks to create a Legacy Project in the communities it calls home, with the aim of creating something that will improve the community for years to come. With that in mind, BHP donated $8 million for the building and another 100 acres valued at $2.7 million.

“When this opportunity came along, that’s when the shift to this location happened,” explained Michelle Roberts, marketing and communications director for the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana. “Without the help of BHP Billiton giving the seed donation and the tremendous community support, there’s no way this would be possible.”

The new building is a nearly 70,000 square foot fitness center featuring a high tech Olympic swimming pool, basketball courts, and multiple exercise and weight rooms. The entire complex, sitting on roughly 150 acres of land along Clyde Fant Parkway, will eventually include renovated baseball fields and a nature station with trails and a lake.

The full size Olympic swimming pool is the crown jewel of the new YMCA facility.

The crown jewel of the new facility is the pool, which is the only 50-meter pool in a 150 square-mile radius. Perfect for hosting swim meets, the pool space can hold 1,200 spectators.

It’s that ability to accommodate large crowds for not only swimming, but the eventually revamped fields out front of the the complex, that will serve as an economic engine.

“So many of our families go out of town to compete in these other areas and they spend their dollars in those communities. Not only is our goal to have visitors come here and spend tourism dollars here, but to keep our families here and have them compete in their hometown,” said Roberts.

Gary Lash, CEO of the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana, said the campus will help generate more sports tourism, encouraging youth sports teams to come to Shreveport for swim meets, baseball tournaments and more. In doing the research, he checked with the YMCA aquatic center in Orlando, Fla. and found it generates about $6M in economic impact. Meanwhile, he found the fields in Sulfur, La. do about $25M per year in economic impact.

Lash estimated the new pool and baseball fields could each provide an annual economic impact of about $5 million to $6 million. He plans to partner with the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission to market the Y’s capabilities.

“Our families are leaving here to go somewhere else. With this facility, we’ll be able to keep them home,” he said.

Of equal importance is that the new YMCA facility will boost the quality of life for locals throughout Shreveport-Bossier. It will also act as something that economic developers can tout when trying to attract new companies and employees for existing industry.

“We’ve had some businesses use this in recruiting employees,” Lash confirmed. “It helps in attracting not just employees but their families, because we have something for everyone.”

He revealed that the Y and its offerings have been part of the economic development equation in the past by fielding phone calls from the US Air Force inquiring what they can offer families of airmen, as well as private business.

“We get corporate visitors who want something for their families to do,” Lash said.

He is optimistic about the new facility’s synergy with the other positive developments going on in the area, saying, “I think this is going to add to that. It’s another piece — with the new aquarium downtown, the re-invisioning of downtown Bossier, and all those things.”