No progress on YMCA; Ironman explores options for $1M pledge


The Island of Hawaii YMCA is now targeting a site at the Old Kona Airport Park for its long-planned West Hawaii YMCA, but Ironman officials are keeping their options open when it comes to fulfilling their million-dollar pledge for the project.

Executive Director Fred Yamashiro said he met with Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald, as well as an Ironman representative, earlier this year to discuss the YMCA leasing land at the North Kona park from Hawaii County.

“It’s kind of in limbo right now,” Yamashiro said. “The election is next month. It’s in the air which administration is going to be in office.”

Fitzgerald last month told West Hawaii Today the state has yet to complete the transfer of the park land to the county. Yamashiro said he wasn’t aware of that.

Fitzgerald said the county and the YMCA have signed no agreements regarding any land use at the Old Kona Airport Park.

“We’ve had discussions on that,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s nothing concrete that’s been approved by anybody.”

Ironman Race Director Diana Bertsch said the foundation is trying to confirm with the YMCA officials that no construction is planned for the immediate future, as well as looking for other opportunities for work Ironman can do in the community.

The $1 million commitment the foundation made in 2003 for a Kona YMCA remains in place, Executive Director David Deschenes said.

“From the local community side, of course we’ve been disappointed to not see the YMCA moving forward on this project,” Bertsch said.

Former World Triathlon Corp. owner James Gills donated several million dollars to build YMCAs in Florida, his home state, in the 1990s. Gills sold the corporation in 2008 to Providence Equity Security, a private equity firm.

“That would be such an amazing thing for any foundation to do,” Bertsch said, adding that to do so would far exceed the foundation’s financial commitment to the project.

For more than a decade, Kona residents have been promised their own full-fledged YMCA. In 2001, YMCA officials leased land in Keauhou to build the facility, which was projected to cost $12 to $20 million and would include areas for sports, senior citizens, a community park and a teen center.

YMCA officials raised about half a million in donations, and the Ironman Foundation pledged another $1 million in construction funds.

But in 2009, then YMCA Vice President Greg Ogin said economic impacts slowed down fundraising. YMCA officials were working on a land swap to get a relatively level parcel, instead of the land they had at the time.

Yamashiro, asked Monday about the Keauhou site, said that site still had the same issues as before, namely that it was steep and would be difficult to work with. The site is not centrally located either, he said.

Ogin in 2009 predicted a two- to 10-year delay in building the YMCA. In 2005, Ogin said staff changes at the Kona YMCA delayed the project. Yamashiro said this week he’d like to see the YMCA execute an agreement with Hawaii County within about six months of the November mayoral election.

Ogin resigned from the board last year, he said last week.

Yamashiro said the organization still hasn’t raised the full amount needed to build the YMCA.

“I made this clear to Bob Fitzgerald that we have limited resources,” Yamashiro said.

The Ironman Foundation has been busy providing funding to other Hawaii Island nonprofit organizations, Deschenes said. Since its inception, the foundation has donated more than $800,000 to nonprofit groups here, he said.

This week, the foundation is wrapping up a $56,000 project refurbishing the Makaeo events pavilion at the Old Kona Airport Park, he said.

Fitzgerald said the work there includes landscaping, painting and replacing fixtures inside the building.