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Jan 24, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

YMCA to expand into central Etobicoke on vacant Westwood lands

Etobicoke Guardian

Etobicoke-Lakeshore residents will be getting their long-awaited community recreation centre, thanks to the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s plans for a major expansion – including a new site on the vacant Westwood Theatre lands.

Last week, the YMCA announced plans for the multi-year Strong Start, Great Future fundraising campaign, with the goal of raising $250 million towards the construction of 10 new centres across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by 2020. David Layton, vice-president of asset development and real estate at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, said Etobicoke was an “obvious, obvious” choice for one of those 10 locations.

“Looking at Etobicoke, it’s a diverse community whether you’re talking about income or ethnicity or activity, and we want to have impact on the whole range of community we’re serving, so it’s just an ideal place for the Y to be,” he said in an interview with The Guardian this week.

Located at the corner of Dundas Street West and Kipling Avenue, the proposed 60,000 square-foot facility would provide recreational programming and services to more than 8,100 people, helping a community in which nearly 52 per cent of the population report being physically inactive – and nearly 20 per cent are obese or overweight – adopt healthier and more active lifestyles.

While Layton said likely features in the Etobicoke centre will include a pool, gym, youth and children’s activity ‘zones’, multi-purpose meeting rooms, child-minding facilities, and fitness studios, he also noted that the YMCA actively engages the communities in which it builds to get a sense of the facilities residents want and need.

“All of our major facilities all have a list of common features, but for the sizes and the mixes and then the programs that operate within those...we really look to connect and engage with the community to make sure that we get the mix right for the demands, needs and interests of the community,” he said. “We want this to be the community’s YMCA.”

While there is no concrete construction timeline in place, the Etobicoke YMCA is anticipated to be open in 2017/2018 – a goal that has been greatly aided by the help of the local city councillor, Layton said.

“(Etobicoke-Lakeshore) Councillor Peter Milczyn has continued to support the project – the Y specifically, and the Westwood redevelopment generally – moving it through whatever approvals the city needs to contribute to help things move along,” he said, pointing to Milczyn’s motion in council last week to secure $1 million towards the new Etobicoke facility as a recent example.

In an interview this week, Milczyn called that million-dollar contribution the city’s “down payment” towards a much-needed resource.

“That money has always been on the books, but now that we have significant movement forward I thought it was time to make that really clear. It’s a good faith step that we’re serious about this,” he said, indicating that the city will likely be making additional Section 37 contributions towards the project in the near future. “I imagine there could be another $1 million or maybe a little bit more.”

Ward 5, Milczyn noted, has long been under-served in regards to community and recreational facilities, and with the influx of new condo residents who have already come in, and with more on the way, a community rec centre is “absolutely crucial.”

And what the YMCA’s involvement means is that his residents won’t have to wait quite so long to see those facilities finally come to fruition.

“One of the reasons why a Y is really an attractive part of the puzzle is otherwise the city would have to build a recreation facility, and there are other communities in the city that are way ahead of Etobicoke (on the recreation centre waitlist)...it’s a win-win,” he said of the $20 million project. “We get the facilities we need at little or no cost to taxpayers, and at the end of the day, all the residents that would want to go there have that ability.”

In addition to providing much-needed facilities and services for his constituents, Milczyn said he’s also hopeful that the new Westwood YMCA will act as a impetus for other types of mixed development – such as office buildings and retail – in the area to balance out the influx of condo developments and create a true city centre in Etobicoke.

“Because (the YMCA) generates a lot of people coming to the area, it’s a great draw for other forms of retail to come in, because it really then starts to form that sense of a city centre,” he said, lamenting the current lack of no central focus or location in the area. “The redevelopment of the Westwood lands with public spaces, parks and also a Y, would lead towards creating that community focal point and gathering place that the area really needs to really take on the form of a vibrant urban centre.”

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