YMCA will move forward on downtown service hub with state grant

Tim Sinatra sees something new taking shape in downtown Salem.

The YMCA executive director calls it a “block of humanity” — a growing concentration of new affordable apartments and buildings for organizations with a mission to help people in Salem thrive.

He wants to build the next piece in the former Statesman Journal building at 280 Church St. N.E.

When finished, it will be a one-stop hub for people to get help to find stability and thrive, bringing more than a dozen service providers under one roof. People could walk in off the street after losing a job, or if they’re struggling to pay rent or find help for a health condition. They’d be able to get help right away and make a plan for next steps.

“We want to keep you out of homelessness. We want to keep you out of major distress,” Sinatra said.

The project got a $3 million boost from state legislators during the 2024 session. It’s about half what YMCA leaders asked for, but Sinatra said it’s enough to move forward with renovations to the building.

Sen. Deb Patterson, a Salem Democrat who advocated for the money, said the proposal made good use of a long-vacant part of downtown.

“Their programs are bursting out of the seams there,” she said of the YMCA, which sits next door to the former Statesman building.

The idea sprang from a May 2022 meeting Sinatra convened with other nonprofit executives and social service providers. A room full of busy leaders indicated they were willing to take on the project.

To make it happen, the YMCA will work with StoreIT, an Oregon company which develops self-storage complexes.

The company will buy the building and use a portion of it for a self-storage facility, meeting growing demand from residents of new downtown apartment complexes.

The YMCA will work with participating service providers to renovate the street-level floor, a process Sinatra hopes to finish in 2025. 

Once finished, organizations including the Boys & Girls Club and Oregon Department of Human Services would rent spaces from StoreIT.

The new hub will be located across the street from the downtown transit center, providing easy access for people. It’s also a few blocks away from HOPE Plaza, a supportive housing project for domestic violence survivors opening later this year, and Courtney Place, a YMCA veteran housing project.

Sinatra envisions it as a way to expand YMCA programs and services through partnerships. 

Parents could attend a class on buying a home or cooking with another service provider while the YMCA hosts a recreation night for their kids.

The YMCA has a program now where Willamette and Corban University students help tutor kids through nonprofit Salem for Refugees. Having more space will let them offer such services to more people.

“It will be like that times 10 over there,” Sinatra said.

The hub could also provide more space for the YMCA to offer family programs, gym nights and possible skating sessions. Sinatra said the organization has already exceeded its six-year forecast for membership since opening their new facility in the fall of 2022.

Patterson said she advocated for the project in part because Sinatra is “somebody who can get things done.” She sees the hub as an important place for Salemites to find support.

“That’s a critical need in our community,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.