Lake Norman & Mooresville

After 40 years on lakefront, Lake Norman YMCA plans improvements

The Lake Norman YMCA has been celebrating 40 years in its home on Lake Cornelius – on land that once was a swamp.
The Lake Norman YMCA has been celebrating 40 years in its home on Lake Cornelius – on land that once was a swamp. DAVID BORAKS

The Lake Norman YMCA has been buzzing with activity again this summer, with 500 campers a week on the waterfront, swimming lessons in the pools, gymnastics and other classes in the gyms, and a steady stream of youth and adults coming to work out.

Staff and supporters also have been celebrating the Y’s 40 years at its home on Lake Cornelius – on land that once was a swamp. About 1,000 people came to the Y’s mid-May Family Fun Day, the public celebration of the anniversary. Other smaller gatherings this summer have brought together the Y’s founders and longtime supporters. And an Oct. 23 dinner and fundraiser at River Run Country Club in Davidson also is planned.

But the Y has been looking forward, planning a series of improvements “for the next 40 years,” Executive Director Ben Pinegar said this week.

Parking lot expansion

The Lake Norman YMCA now has more than 200 employees and more than 8,000 members, who come for programs in and around the 80,000-square-foot building at the end of Davidson Street. This fall, the organization will expand and reconfigure its overcrowded parking lot, pending approval by the Cornelius Town Board on Sept. 8.

“We have dramatically and severely outgrown our current parking lot,” Pinegar said.

The project would add 129 parking spaces, for a new total of 317, according to documents submitted to the Town of Cornelius. It also will add a second outlet to Davidson Street as well as angled parking along Davidson Street.

The project will not, as some neighbors have worried, include opening the YMCA to Church Street, Pinegar said.

“We have committed not to open Church Street,” he said. “Our goal is to be a good neighbor, and that's not a priority right now.”

Other work in the years ahead will modernize the Y’s aging buildings, the original red roof and other facilities – including the lobby and locker rooms. To pay for the renovations, Pinegar said, the Y hopes to begin raising $2.5 million to $3 million in 2016, turning to the community for support, just as it did when the founders built the original facility in the early 1970s.

A bit of history

In 1969, Davidson was the bigger of the two towns, with a population of 2,931. Cornelius was just under 1,300. (Today, Davidson is about 12,000 to Cornelius’ 25,000.) Some people weren’t sure the community could pull off a YMCA.

Life insurance salesman Bob Stone was determined, and organized a committee that included Taylor Blackwell, editor of The Mecklenburg Gazette; Davidson College math professor Richie King; business owners Burl Narramore and Robert Cashion; and banker Lawrence Kimbrough. They succeeded, despite financial uncertainty.

The YMCA’s tenuous start came in 1969 in the American Legion building, off North Main Street. Some programs were held at Cornelius and Davidson elementary schools, and swimmers used the pool at Davidson College.

But the organization needed a permanent home if it was to thrive. Blackwell and Stone persuaded Duke Power to donate swamp land on Lake Norman, and the group launched a campaign to pay for construction. The new facility, with an outdoor – now indoor – pool, a locker room and a gymnasium, opened in 1975 – the same year the final leg of Interstate 77 through Lake Norman opened.

The Y has carried out three major expansions since, including a gym and a wing of classrooms in 1998, and a second-floor fitness center in 2012.

From the start, the Lake Norman YMCA has welcomed all, Pinegar said. “They really embraced that ‘for all,’ that it’s going to be for all residents of this region – Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville everybody, open to all races, open to all genders.”

Georgia Krueger, who served as the Y’s director from 1993 to 2005 and now runs the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, is among those who have stayed involved, both as a member and an adviser.

“I’m probably the Y’s biggest fan,” she said. “The Y has been a staple in this community. It has been a gathering place for people to get healthy – spirit, mind and body – and it’s for all.”

Over the years, that has meant adding programs such as adaptive water-skiing for people with disabilities and Y Readers, which boosts kids’ reading skills during the summer months.

“I think how we fit into the community is to continue to find ways to embrace what ‘for all’ means,” Pinegar said.

David Boraks is a freelance writer: