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Vicksburg anticipates new retirement development and YMCA

In with the old, in with the new

VICKSBURG — On April 9, 1999, Mike Davis, of Century 21 and chairman of Vicksburg Retirement Development, and Mike Hayes, a Nashville-based developer, exchanged their first fax. The subject was a historic building in downtown Vicksburg, and its potential as a new residential development for retirees.

Just over a year later that potential is being realized. Work will soon begin turning the current 77-year-old, 42,000-square-foot YMCA, which is building a new, state-of-the-art facility, into a retirement complex boasting condominiums, health and entertainment amenities and more.

“This is going to be a really unique project that’s going to help fill a void in Vicksburg,” Davis said. “We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about condos from retirees interested in relocating to Vicksburg, but we haven’t had anything to offer.”

Hayes, a 20-year developer specializing in multi-family and retirement housing, said he and Davis had already been talking about retirement housing in Vicksburg when a news item changed everything.

“When I found out the YMCA was building a new facility and the current one was going to be available, I saw new possibilities,” he said. “I had seen a similar situation in Louisville, Ky., where the YMCA was converted into housing for active retirees. The project was very successful, and I thought it could work in Vicksburg, too.”

While the YMCA is 18 months away from moving into its new facility, that is actually a plus, as plans are still developing for the retirement development. However, what has been decided is that the top two floors, a former 66-room dormitory that the YMCA closed in the 1980s, will contain 27 one- and two-bedroom condominiums. Plans for the bottom two floors remain fluid, but it will definitely contain fitness and wellness equipment and amenities, and will probably have other offerings such as retail space and a restaurant.

Hayes estimated the project will cost between $4-$4.5 million. Plans are for the new development to be opened in about 24 months.

Perfect timing has been the hallmark of the project so far. Davis said the goal was to not have the current YMCA sit vacant, but to have something ready to step in when the YMCA left. With the YMCA 18 months from leaving, the building has already been sold (the YMCA is now leasing its current space), and since the top two floors aren’t being utilized by the YMCA, work can begin on the condominiums immediately without disrupting the YMCA’s operations, thus the new retirement complex can be opened just six months after the YMCA vacates.

One thing that has aided this fortunate timing was a generous donation.

“There was no sales commission charged on this project — it was pro bono,” Davis said. “My broker, Lawrence Koestler, and everybody at Century 21 deserves a lot of praise and credit. Since it was the YMCA, and because they realized the uniqueness of the project, they donated their time and effort. And because there was no sales commission charged, the project was much easier to pursue.”

Davis said the new development is right on time in another way.

“In the last four years, we have recruited 99 retiree households in Warren County,” he said. “The fastest-growing segment of the population is the 85 and over age group, and every retiree recruited equals 3.7 factory jobs, since retirees are taxpayers but don’t ask anything of the system — they don’t need public schools or public assistance, those kinds of things. So, if Vicksburg wants to get a share of those retirees, we have to have housing.”

Folks in Vicksburg are also excited about their new YMCA, not the least of whom is Herb Wilkinson, the YMCA’s general manager who has been there 34 years.

“It is a career high for me,” he said. “I know others are excited, too. The Vicksburg YMCA has always been held in high esteem by the community, and we’ve always garnered strong support. We’ve been blessed.”

Wilkinson said that discussions about a new facility had been underway for the last decade. While a fine old building and structurally-sound, he said limited space, multi-stories and the lack of modern amenities was a hindrance.

Now, after a two-year, $2.4-million fund-raising campaign, the YMCA will sit on a 12-acre plot in the Beechwood area. (The road to the new facility was being grated at the time of this interview.) When complete, the new YMCA will boast 30,000 square feet including offices, indoor pool, gymnasium, meeting rooms, health center and many more amenities. Plans are currently being drawn by the Jackson firm of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons, Ltd., Architects & Engineers.

The new building will cost approximately $3 million,

Currently employing 15 people and offering a wide assortment of programs and services, Wilkinson said the new YMCA will increase both its payroll and offerings when the new facility opens.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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