The rumors started circulating last fall: The YMCA of Greater Springfield was moving many of its operations into Tower Square in the heart of downtown Springfield.
Soon, the rumors moved to a different plane, a strange one, a place between rumor and fact, where the move was assumed, a proverbial worst-kept secret, but not yet official. And then, it moved to a still-higher level as buildout work began at Tower Square, in earnest, a few weeks ago.
Now the move is official (it was announced late last week), and thus the speculation about what all this means — for the Y, Tower Square, downtown, and the city itself — also escalates to a higher plane.
Suffice it to say this is an intriguing move, one taken out of what amounts to necessity for the Y, which has been facing a number of challenges ranging from declining membership in its fitness center in Springfield to the rising cost of operating and maintaining its nearly half-century-old property on Chestnut Street.
Something needed to happen to give the Y some financial flexibility, some additional visibility, and a chance to grow its programs. Meanwhile, something also needed to happen for the new ownership of Tower Square, which was looking to not only put some vacant space back to revenue-generating use, but also give the facility a spark in terms of everything from foot traffic to much-needed momentum.
It took a while, but the parties came together and came to a deal, one that could substantially alter the fortunes of both entities.
But there are many questions about this move and whether it is going to work for either the Y or Tower Square.
“Something needed to happen to give the Y some financial flexibility, some additional visibility, and a chance to grow its programs. Meanwhile, something also needed to happen for the new ownership of Tower Square …”
Let’s start with the Y. There are already two other health clubs in the heart of downtown and another on the riverfront just a few blocks away. Meanwhile, the Y’s Chestnut Street facility is only a half-mile from Tower Square. So there are naturally questions about whether this move will generate a boost in membership.
Likewise, there are questions, and many of them, about whether Tower Square is the ideal location for Y’s daycare facilities, which are, at this moment in time, its strongest revenue-producing operation. At times, it isn’t easy to get into and out of downtown, and parking will certainly be an issue.
As for Tower Square, the need to fill the large amounts of unused or underutilized space is acute. But are daycare operations and a fitness facility the best use of that space?
Yet, amid all the questions and uncertainty, one thing is clear: this is a bold move for both entities, one that shows large doses of imagination and outside-the-box thinking. And this is what’s needed at both the Y and Tower Square at this time.
Flash back four decades or so, and both were thriving. The Y’s building had recently opened, its membership was large and growing, and the day when there would be gym — or two or three or eight — in every community was still a few decades off. As for Tower Square, it was crammed with thriving retail — clothing stores, record stores, a sporting-goods store, a bookstore, Friendly’s, and much more.
That was then. It seems like a long time ago, because it is. This is now. There is no turning back the clock for either organization, but the clock can be turned forward.
No one really knows if all this is going to work out, but what is known is that neither entity could stand still and simply hope for better days. This move constitutes risk for both parties, a roll of the dice, if you will. But it’s a risk worth taking to secure a better future for both.