Keystone buys downtown Y for ministry

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 9, 2004

[4/9/04]The Downtown YMCA building has been sold for the second time since plans to build a new Y off East Clay Street were announced.

Keystone Ministries, a local Christian organization, bought the building this week from the Nashville developer whose plans for the property never developed.

Keystone paid $420,000 for the 80-year-old structure at Clay and Monroe streets with proceeds generated from the sale of the former Mississippi Hardware building at Washington and Speed.

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James Hartley, director of Keystone, said the multistory building will be restored, the first floor converted into a restaurant and there will be housing on the upper floors.

“We plan to put it back into its original state,” Hartley said.

YMCAs are now geared mostly to fitness and youth programs. In the organization’s early days, most Y’s, including two in Vicksburg, offered sparse rooms for rent by the night to traveling men.

The Downtown Y here has not had room rentals for decades and lower floors were a fitness center for men and women members. The building has a gym, indoor pool and racquetball courts.

Hartley said the gospel-themed cafe will open by May 15 and other developments will follow.

Keystone serves recently released prison inmates and people released from drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The organization operates a men’s shelter at 1702 Court St., which will be moved to the former Y.

Hartley said residents will work in the restaurant which will generate revenue for the organization. He said they plan to open a women’s shelter on Court Street after restoration of the YMCA building are complete.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said he was pleased with the sale and the plans for the property.

“It’s another large, downtown building that will be occupied,” Leyens said.

The Tennessee developer had said a conversion to upscale apartments was its plan for the structure, built in 1923 with money donated by the widow of Junius Ward Johnson. Mrs. Johnson also gave money for the Jackson Street YMCA which, during segregation, served black residents. That building collapsed and the Jackson Street Community Center was built on the site.

The Downtown Y was sold during fund raising for the William K. Purks Y facility that opened on East Clay Street in 2002. The Y also operates two branches north and south of Vicksburg and Warner-Tully YMCA Camp.

The former Aeolian apartment building at Clay and Cherry streets, about a block east of the YMCA, recently went up for sale for $325,000. The 74-unit apartment building has been vacant for more than a decade.