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Closure of Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA leaves bigger concerns about Calgary’s downtown

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WATCH: The closure of the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA is raising bigger concerns about the future of Calgary's downtown. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Feb 19, 2021

Concerns are swirling about the future of recreation centres in Calgary’s downtown in light of news the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA is closed for good.

On Thursday, YMCA Calgary announced the downtown location will not reopen, citing financial and economic pressures.

Read more: Calgary’s Eau Claire YMCA to permanently close

Ted Lefebvre has been a member and a volunteer at the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA since it opened in 1988.

“They open the door to everybody and it’s a great facility and I’m sad to see it gone,” Lefebvre said.

“I have to say I’m not surprised knowing what’s going on downtown and who knows when that’s going to recover.”

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Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell said the closure of the downtown YMCA is a small symptom of a much bigger problem.

Farrell said it’s hard to draw people to the downtown when recreation facilities aren’t being delivered. She said the closure is a wake up call to start investing in the city’s core.

“I hope it’s not just public investment from the city. It should come from the federal government and it should come from the provincial government,” Farrell said.

“Otherwise the downtown will continue to decline and a dead downtown is a declining city.”

Read more: Calgary pools close as councillor seeks options for struggling inner city aquatic centre

The president of YMCA Calgary Shannon Doram said membership at the downtown facility dropped from a high of nearly 10,000 in 2014 to 1,300 most recently.

“The decision to close the Eau Claire Y is a permanent closure decision,” Doram said.

“However we would be open to different opportunities as they arise as we start into a process of exploring what engagement and YMCA services look like in the downtown core.”

The organization hopes to keep delivering programs for kids in ways that don’t require a large facility.

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The Gray Family YMCA is owned and operated by  YMCA Calgary.

Read more: YMCA pleads with some problem members to stop disrespecting staff

The City of Calgary has a partnership with the other YMCAs and owns facilities in Rocky Ridge, Seton, Shawnessy, Saddletown, Quarry Park and Crowfoot, but the Eau Claire facility was owned and operated solely by YMCA Calgary.

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said he’s not keen on putting city money into the Eau Claire YMCA to keep it afloat.

“I’m not ruling it out, I’m just saying I would be surprised if it made sense. If it doesn’t make sense for the YMCA, I suspect it’s similarly not going to make sense for public dollars,” he said.

“And then we also have to layer on the question of is that the right place?”

Carra said the city would get bigger bang for its buck by renovating the city-owned Repsol Centre.

Calgary’s mayor said he wasn’t surprised by news of the closure, saying the YMCA had consulted extensively before making this “heart-wrenching” decision.

“As a city, we have to make sure that people who live and work downtown have access to quality recreation — whether it’s public or privately funded — and we have to make sure that is in place,”  Naheed Nenshi said on Friday.

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