Commentary: New YMCA should preserve Westside history
Original Post on WABE by Maria Saporta
The YMCA of Metro Atlanta, the oldest nonprofit in the city, is leaving its home of more than 40 years in downtown Atlanta to go to the Westside. It is buying Jordan Hall with plans to demolish the building to build a Leadership and Learning Center that will offer early learning opportunities to Vine City.
Ed Munster describes the YMCA as an organization that’s not just for the young, not just for men and not just for Christians. It is an organization that serves everyone: young and old, men and women regardless of their faith.
It is in that spirit that the YMCA decided to locate its new $20 million headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, a couple of blocks west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In addition to serving as headquarters, the new facility will house its Head Start early education program and serve about 70 children in the community.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the Y’s decision to move to Vine City is a concrete example that efforts to rejuvenate marginal neighborhoods on the Westside are beginning to take off.
There is much to celebrate with the Y’s decision to become even more vested in the communities it serves.
But, speaking for myself, I am disappointed the Y wasn’t able to incorporate the preservation of Jordan Hall in its plans.
One of my biggest fears for the Westside is that its rich history will be erased as new investments are made.
YMCA leaders say they studied options to save Jordan Hall but decided it was more cost effective to build new. They say they will look for ways to pay homage to the building’s history.
Most recently, Jordan Hall was part of the Morris Brown College campus. But it began as the Edmund Asa Ware Elementary School, one of the first schools in the city to educate African-American students. It was named after the first president of Atlanta University.
The Y still needs to get permits to move forward with its plans. It hopes to move into its new building by the summer of 2018.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Y and community leaders could find a way to preserve the area’s past while welcoming the future?
It would be wonderful if the Y and the community residents and organizations of Vine City could come together to collaborate on ways and means by which the EA Ware School/Jordan Hall could be preserved. However, the Y has made no effort to engage any community residents in its deliberations with regards to EA Ware/Jordan Hall.
Obviously, the only persons they felt a need to engage were Mayor Reed and Council member Young. As a resident of Vine City, I too fear that the revitalization of the area will not be beneficial to the long term residents who have worked diligently over the years to keep the neighborhood clean, promote green spaces, build and redevelop homes, promote community safety, support the education of neighborhood children, save schools from closing, as well as secure a historical designation of Sunset Street.
Traditionally, new developers going into low wealth neighborhoods and communities find a lack of financial feasibility in preserving historic structures in those neighborhoods. The assumption is that the neighborhoods must be redefined in order to attract new residents.
As it is well known, the Family Home of Martin Luther King, Jr. is located on historic Sunset Street in Vine City. Given all the interest on the part of Foundations working in the neighborhood, I am yet to hear of a project to do a reclamation of that historic structure. I guess that sums up the interest in preserving historic structures and legacies of Vine City as well as other communities on the Westside with historical assets.
Carrie M. SalvaryReport