‘Y’ time for Gadsden County?

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Local supporters hope to turn vacant tomato warehouse into community recreation hub

By Alice Du Pont

Imagine, if you will, driving east on U.S. Highway 90 just entering the Quincy city limits. Look to your right and sprouting up is a huge, gleaming structure surrounded by soccer fields, baseball diamonds, a swimming pool and other outdoor sports and recreational venues.

That’s the dream Sheriff Morris Young has for the former tomato warehouse snuggled behind the Piggly Wiggly Food for Less but clearly visible from Blue Star Highway. The 74,000-square-foot, 34-acre plot of land is what Young has also imagined.

Monday he met with Ray Purvis, a man who has opened YMCAs through out the nation — and beyond its borders. Most recently he opened a facility in Hong Kong and when he left, there was an inline ice hockey international tournament bringing unlikely nations together through a sport that neither had ever heard about.

But Purvis, the sheriff, and two women who feel the community needs a world-class facility (Gay Steffen and Tamara Buckhead) want to engage the whole community in support of the project. In recent weeks they have met with people young, old, rich, poor, black, white and Hispanics.

“The only way to make it work is for all for the community to have ownership. This could be phased in over a 10-year period as a development. The key is for the community to decide what they want. You’re already way ahead of most places with this facility already in place,” Purvis said.

Steffen and Buckhead said they have been working for about a year on the project. They have been meeting with small groups trying to determine where the interest of the community lies. A project of this magnitude cannot become a political football, they agreed.

Purvis said that Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA have different missions. He doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that the Y is here to compete.

“We are not competing; we’re here to enhance what’s already here, whether it’s a city recreation program or any other after-school or weekend programs,” Purvis said.

Having established YMCAs, Purvis expressed reservations about the lack of transportation in a county that covers so many rural miles and pocket communities can sometimes be miles apart.

“That won’t be a problem. We’ve already been in talks with the school transportation people and as buses go offline, they will be donated to us,” Young said.

Young told Purvis the need for a facility such as the one he envisions is paramount. In the current facility that has little or no equipment except a few donated portable basketball goals and a few mats for tumbling, 1,600 children showed up last summer to participate in some kind of summer activity.

Young doesn’t want a revolving door jail when money can be spent up front to produce good citizens who become good taxpayers.

Funding such a facility will be expensive, but Purvis also had some ideas that could help. The floors, he observed, were in excellent condition and the structure was sound, parking was good and the location is known to just about everyone in the county due in part to the Piggly Wiggly next door.

“But we will have to put together a mix of resources, grants, donors, government and others. As I see it, we’re 70 percent there; now it’s a matter of resources,” Purvis said.