Y officials decide to press ahead with Mahackeno project
Updated 1:54 pm, Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The Westport Weston Family Y's plan to build a new 54,000-square-foot complex at the Y's Mahackeno Outdoor Center will move ahead, after the project received unanimous backing Monday night at a joint meeting of the Y's Boards of Directors and Trustees.
The boards also approved a new $1 million allocation to fund the development by the Y's architectural and construction consultants of detailed "100 percent" design documents, which will delineate the layout and appearance of every section of the new complex. The Y last month received preliminary "50 percent" documents from its consulting team.
"We're significantly close to we're we need to be," said Rob Reeves, the Y's chief executive officer. "The board is confident that the support the community has shown will continue, and that we'll meet our fundraising goals."
Y officials' decision to proceed with construction of the Mahackeno center will likely dispel much of the uncertainty that has clouded the project in recent months. At a March 19 public forum, Reeves announced the Y needed to raise "significantly close" to $6.2 million in new contributions by mid-May. If they failed to reach that goal, Y officials repeatedly indicated in recent weeks that they would consider abandoning the Mahackeno project.
The Y has so far collected about $10.6 million through its "Building What Matters" capital campaign, including about $4.4 million raised since the March 19 meeting. Its fundraising total includes a $1 million contribution last month from Bonnie Strittmatter, the president of the Y's Board of Directors, and her husband, Bill, as well as a $750,000 donation from two descendants of Y founder Edward T. Bedford. In addition, Allen Raymond, a former Y president and Westport's town historian, made a $500,000 pledge in March. So far, more than 100 donors have contributed to the capital campaign, according to Y officials.
"I'm hopeful that these plans will be in keeping with what the Y had originally offered to the town in terms of developing the facility and accommodating all the members," said Winthrop Baum, a former Y board member. "We will have a Y in Westport. I would hate to see the town of Westport be without a community center."
The Mahackeno Y will cost about $37.5 million to build, according to Y officials. The construction total includes the cost of installing a new septic system and posting a cash bond in a town emergency reserve account, which would pay for the replacement of the septic system if it were to fail. In recent weeks, Y leaders had pegged the project's cost at $36 million, although they did not include septic system expenditures in that earlier estimate.
To finance construction of the Mahackeno center, the Y also plans to use $15.5 million from the sale of its downtown center at 59 Post Road East; $5 million in debt financing; and $3 million from an investment fund.
The Y still faces a $3.4 million fundraising shortfall for the Mahackeno complex. Reeves said the Y will continue to fundraise and indicated that the Y would likely seek to borrow more money if it did not close the $3.4 million gap by the fall when construction of the Mahackeno center is scheduled to begin.
Y trustees also voted Monday to approve a "Written Notice of Intent to Close" on its previously agreed sale of 59 Post Road East to the Bedford Square Associates development consortium. That vote, Reeves said, guarantees that the Y will sell its current building and leave that complex by November 2014.
The Mahackeno center is scheduled to open by the end of 2014.
Y officials originally hoped to build a 102,000-square-foot Mahackeno center. But a fundraising shortfall of more than $16 million scuttled that plan, which prompted the Boards of Directors and Trustees to vote in February to move ahead instead with the scaled-down 54,000-square-foot building. Y leaders, however, have said they aim to eventually reach a 102,000-square-foot footprint through subsequent building phases.
To reduce project costs, Y officials are considering applying to the State Bond Commission for state bonds to finance the mandatory reconfiguration of the northbound side of Exit 41 on the Merritt Parkway. The project will include the construction of a new lane on the exit's off-ramp, expanding the connector road between the exit ramp and Wilton Road from two to four lanes and installing a new traffic light at the meeting point of the connector road, the exit ramp and the entry road to the Mahackeno campus. The construction work on the exit will cost about $2.9 million, according to Reeves. That outlay is factored into the $37.5 million Mahackeno project total and would be entirely financed by the Y, unless the State Bond Commission were to approve state funds for the exit redevelopment.
Reeves, however, downplayed the possibility of lobbying the State Bond Commission for state aid in the near future.
"Down the road, anything is possible," he added. "But, right now, we're putting all our energy into fundraising."
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