New YMCA offers a sneak peek

Long-awaited facility, opening Sept. 7, draws hundreds to open house

August 29, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Amid the smell of hot dogs, sawdust and wood stain, hundreds of people gathered yesterday inside the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg YMCA to get a preview look at the newly constructed building that stands on the site of the former Memorial Stadium.

It was the first open house for the facility on East 33rd Street in Waverly, now almost complete after about five years of planning and nearly 18 months of work.

Some landscaping and a few finishing touches still need to be done, but the YMCA at Stadium Place is scheduled to officially open with an expected 4,000 members Sept. 7.

During yesterday's event, some of those prospective members noshed on franks and sipped cool beverages as they talked about the history of the site with guest speakers and local celebrities, including former Baltimore Colts players Tom Matte and Lenny Moore.

Others skipped the trip down memory lane and quickly took to the Y's halls, strolling through the 54,000-square-foot building and viewing its state-of-the-art fitness studios and pool.

And although the facility does have impressive athletic and aquatic features, it's more than just a place for "swim and gym," said Lee Jensen, president and chief executive officer of YMCA of Central Maryland.

"It's like a community resource center," said Jensen, rattling off his new branch's list of programs, including teen and senior activities, summer camps and mentoring initiatives.

That said, Jensen was quick to point out that the facility will offer a number of sports leagues on its 6 acres of athletic fields.

"We really respect what happened on this ground," he said, referring to past decades, when Memorial Stadium played host to a number of professional sports teams, including the Baltimore Colts, Orioles and Ravens.

At yesterday's open house, however, most of the crowd was more focused on the future - many just wanted the place to open already.

"It's long overdue for the community," said Brad Chambers, chairman of the Y branch's board of directors.

But will diehard baseball and football fans think the land has been put to good use?

Matte thinks so.

"It's fantastic," he said of the site's transformation. "Sports is such an important part of growing up. And with the leadership they have at the YMCA, the kids are going to be benefited by this."

New member and city resident Natalie Wallace agrees.

The mother of teenagers said she likes the national organization's motto about building strong kids, families and communities; and she believes the local site's full schedule of programs will not only keep her busy, but will also provide her two children - and many others like them - with something to do after school and on weekends.

"It's something positive for the youth," she said. "It gives them alternatives to just hanging out."

As a place where people of all ages can gather for recreation and to pass the time, the new YMCA will continue on where Memorial Stadium left off, Jensen said.

"We will ... capture its history," he said.

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