Expanded Services & Facilities: Greater Austin YMCA 2030 Vision

Published On: September 6, 2023Categories: Blog

The Y is taking a look at its properties to see what might become more than simply a Y.

The Greater Austin YMCA owns nine properties throughout the city and suburbs, many of them in prime locations.

Yes, it’s an impressive portfolio. But is the Y maximizing its potential? And then there’s what might be missing: Should the Y be looking to expand, to fill in gaps in services or geography?

These are among the questions that the Y board and its chief executive, Kathy Kuras, have attempted to answer in creating a new strategic plan, 2030 Vision, which the local nonprofit is sharing with the community.

In the plan, the Y has outlined four strategic impact areas, some familiar, some fresh:

  • Elevate Quality of Life in Central Texas
  • Educate and Empower Young People
  • Expand Equitable Access for All
  • Energize a Sustainable Future

“During the pandemic, we had to innovate and adapt to provide new programs and services that the community needed,” Kuras said, referring to services such as child care for essential workers, food distribution, vaccine clinics and even hot showers during the 2021 ice storm that paralyzed the area. “They say structure follows strategy, so we’re examining every part of our operation to ensure our Ys are designed to meet the needs of today and positioned to meet the needs of tomorrow.”

Over the past 12 months, the Y has conducted a series of Community Voices Open Houses at its centers to get public input. In addition, the Y has enlisted Triangle2, a national consulting firm that specializes in serving YMCAs, along with local real estate firm The Drenner Group to assess the Y’s realestate holdingsandfigure outhow they might be positioned to best support the organization’s mission and the community’s needs.

In late 2022, the Y purchased a former child care facility on RM 620 in the Four Points area of West Austin and is redeveloping it into a new Y center. The Y is also evaluating several properties through the end of the year, including the TownLake Y and Camp Moody.

Kuras said the driving force is the Y’s attempt to keep pace with the explosive growth of Austin and the evolving community needs coming out of the pandemic.

“We want to make significant investments in our programs and services, and one mechanism for doing that is by maximizing the use of our current real estate, both in terms of land and buildings,” Kuras said. “It will help us figure out how and where to make deep investments in our existing buildings and in new opportunities. Austin is a world-class city, and our Y must be able to offer world-class experiences for everyone who walks through our doors.”

Along those lines, Y leaders might look at developing part of a Y property if they could reinvest proceeds into facility upgrades. They’re open to expanding into new neighborhoods, perhaps through ground-floor space in new developments, or utilizing empty downtown office space to run a child care center. The Y is also looking to address community needs beyond the organization’s current focus on fitness, child care, youth development, and senior programs.

“Our city leaders are focused on equity, affordability and sustainability, and so is the Y,” said Dave Anderson, a senior vice president at Drenner Group. “There are a variety of partnerships that the Y may explore with development partners to achieve those goals – whether that’s with a real estate developer, a municipality, school district or another agency.”

One possibility, given the city’s housing shortage, would be to add affordable housing at one of the nonprofit’s properties, such as the TownLake Y, located at Lamar and Cesar Chavez, provided that neighbors and the broader community support the concept.

“We’re a volunteer-led community-based organization, so we will work in an open, transparent manner to get input from all stakeholders prior to making any decisions,” Kuras said. “Whether we pursue redevelopment, renovations, investments, or partnerships, we see amazing potential to deliver greater value to all members of our community.”

Several metropolitan YMCAs across the U.S. and Canada have been following a similar course of re-evaluating property holdings in recent years. YMCAs in Tampa, Nashville, Denver and Boise are all in the process of redeveloping or repurposing facilities to include housing, child care, retail and other community services.

Kuras joined the Austin Y in February, 2021, from the YMCA of Greater Boston, where she served as Chief Operations Officer. She said the re-evaluation is a natural result of challenges brought on during the pandemic and in its aftermath.

“We learned a lot during the pandemic about new challenges facing our community,” Kuras said. “Affordable child care is one area where we can make an immediate impact if we can expand our capacity. So we started to think in terms of how might we make the most of the resources we already have? How do we maintain or reconfigure the buildings we have? Are we doing what needs to be done for our members and the services that we need to provide?”

Going forward, the Y board has decided to take a more holistic approach toward looking at all its remaining properties — the capital projects that might be necessary at each one, and any development partnerships that might be pursued to pull them off.

“The guidance of T2 and The Drenner Group have been invaluable,” Kuras said. “Given the magnitude of what we have, it’s really our fiduciary responsibility to understand how we maximize value not just in financial terms but in human terms as well.”

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