Growing up in Baton Rouge, La., Steve Williams was a member of the YMCA. Today, he chairs the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Northwest Florida.
“The Y has always had a place in my heart, I’ve always had a passion for the Y,”
Williams said. “When people think of a Y, they think of a gym. That’s true, we do offer that. But we offer so much more than a gymnasium.”
These days, Williams is fighting for a new YMCA facility in Pensacola. The current downtown facility is showing its age after years of wear and tear.
“I think a new, modern Y would just inject new life into the Y,” Williams explained.
Recently, Blue Wahoos owners Quint and Rishy Studer put up $5 million dollars toward a new Y. They tied the offer to a waterfront parcel next to the baseball stadium at the Community Maritime Park.
“When the $5 million offer was made, we thought, ‘Wow, this really is a possibility for us,’” Williams said.
There were plans for a 40,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility. The concept was taken to the city of Pensacola.
“We had no idea it would become so political,” Williams said.
While the notion of a new downtown, waterfront YMCA got a lot of support, there were procedural questions raised—the city, as well as the Community Maritime Park Board are involved in the process—and also concerns over what constituted the best use of the park property.
In the end—after being approved conceptually by the city council, but then rebuffed by the CMPA—the Y board walked away from what it deemed a “broken” process.
“I was disappointed people didn’t share the long-term vision. I think there was some short-sightedness on some people’s parts.”
Williams is still working toward a new facility. He believes it would be good for both the Y and the greater community. The organization is currently assessing possible locations and the Studers have taken the parcel eight-stipulation off their offer.
“We will have a new Y,” Williams said.
Although the YMCA’s attempt this winter to relocate its downtown facility to the park was unsuccessful, Williams isn’t entirely disappointed with the results. The publicity surrounding the Y’s attempt has yielded some positive results.
“Just from the publicity, we’ve seen an increase in our membership,” Williams said.
The board chair described how he now gets asked regularly about the YMCA. People have taken an interest.
“Absolutely, I get stopped at least three times a day—‘Hey, what’s going on with the Y, man?’” Williams said. “They just want know the situation. There is an increase in the awareness of the Y in downtown Pensacola. People know a lot more about the Y than they would otherwise.”
Williams hopes he may soon be able to point people interested in the YMCA toward the organization’s new facility.
“We still think Maritime Park would be a great place for a ‘Maritime Y,’” he said.