What’s next for the Johnston YMCA? Here’s to the next 70 years

The news about the Johnston YMCA’s plans for redevelopment caught local news attention in early June, but the work around building a plan has actually been happening for many years. In early October 2019, the YMCA hosted a Community Design Session that included representatives from the Greater Charlotte YMCA, community partners, and a group of residents from NoDa, Plaza Midwood, and other communities serviced by the Johnston YMCA. We were asked to bring our creativity and sense of community to write NoDa’s new chapter of health and wellness. How would we reimagine the use of the 5.8 acres occupied by the Johnston YMCA? 

Where did it all begin? The North Charlotte YMCA was established in 1948 after Richard Horace Johnston, president of Highland Park Manufacturing, invited the Y to form a branch in North Charlotte (as it was known before becoming NoDa in the ‘90s.) David Johnston, Richard’s son, began building the Y we know today in 1949 and named it after his dad. Consider this: the Y’s facility has been around since before most of you NoDa News readers or your parents were born.

Over the years, the Y retained roots as NoDa’s community and fitness center, but is also organized around specific programs focused on breaking the cycle of poverty: 

Addressing food insecurity through food share programs such as Loaves & Fishes and a seniors program in partnership with the Mecklenburg County Division of Social Services, in which seniors meet in the “Hut” behind the Y and enjoy a hot meal twice a week, and take home a meal for the other days

Providing access to care: Primary care, mental health care, chronic disease prevention, and increased access for those with diverse abilities

Youth and team opportunities: You may have attended the Y’s summer camp program as a kid or taken swim lessons, but there are many other programs, like drowning prevention and Y Readers 

Where to next? Y spokesperson Heather Briganti shared, “Our current building, built in 1951, does not serve current market expectations for flow and function, and has a growing list of deferred maintenance needs.” 

At the October 2019 Community Design Session, we embraced the “no idea is a bad idea” mantra and suggested plans such as partnerships with a grocery store, more on-site parking, on-site health care, a small business incubator space, a place for art and artists, affordable housing, a larger and more functional fitness space, day care, and, true to the Y’s roots, being of continued service as the neighborhood’s front porch and gathering spot. We drew inspiration from other community-focused facilities across the U.S. and had fun imagining people-powered bike generators fueling the Y’s electric needs. (It’s important to note that these ideas were simply input given by a room full of passionate people who care about the Y and NoDa, and may not all make their way into final plans.)

Heather also relayed: “A committee of YMCA of Greater Charlotte board members, Johnston YMCA board members and staff have started the process of formally exploring redevelopment on the site. The YMCA of Greater Charlotte is working alongside these key volunteers with consultants to develop an RFP to engage the development community, with the intent to build on the rich history of the Johnston YMCA, maximize the land, and design an enduring neighborhood hub for the NoDa community. Timeframe is currently under development, and updates will be made as they become available.”

As a Board member of the Johnston YMCA, I, and my fellow board members, are honored to be part of contributing to this work and building on David Johnston’s legacy. Watch NoDa News for more information as the plans unfold!

Cue PSA: Until then, please support our Y — NoDa’s Y — in whatever ways you can. Monetary contributions and your monthly membership are certainly very appreciated. Thank you Carola Cardenas, leader of the Johnston Y team, and the whole team and YMCA employees and volunteers! Here’s to the next 70 years!