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Memphis in the hunt for YMCA's national HQ

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Memphis in the hunt for YMCA's national HQ

Kate Miller Morton

Chicago-based YMCA of the USA, the national umbrella organization for 2,600 YMCAs, is conducting a national search for a new headquarters facility, and the Memphis Regional Chamber is in hot pursuit.

Marie Lynch, YMCA USA's director of operations, says Memphis is on a list of less than a dozen cities the organization is considering for a headquarters facility that could be as large as 260,000 square feet.

YMCA USA currently leases 65,000 square feet of Chicago office space where roughly 250 of the non-profit's 330 employees are based. The lease expires in January 2006.

Limited to office space only in the current location, Lynch says YMCA USA is looking to add a conference center, museum, child care center and possibly hotel space.

Lynch says there are a number of criteria the organization is looking for in its national search including: location in the central time zone; hotel and airline accessibility; diversity in the work force; and an established and deep philanthropic presence in the community.

"We think Memphis is a viable contender for the national headquarters of YMCA of the USA," says Memphis Regional Chamber senior vice president of economic development Jim Apple. "The municipal attributes the Y is looking for can all be found in Memphis."

The Chamber found out about the YMCA's headquarters search last spring, wrote a letter of interest in April, and was invited to submit a proposal last month.

The Chamber's customized proposal touted the low cost of living and doing business in Memphis. It also highlighted other corporate and non-profit headquarters located here such as FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, Ducks Unlimited, the National Cotton Council and the National Foundation of Transplants.

But as Memphis competes with likely contenders such as Dallas and Chicago, the intangible advantages are the most distinctive.

"Many of the (organization's) basic criteria are already in the city in which they are domiciled," Apple says. "The Y is a national philanthropic organization with a particular mission. In a city like Memphis, I think it can be much more visible. They can in essence be a bigger fish in a smaller pond."

Lynch says half of the non-profit's work force is made up of former local YMCA executives who frequently visit facilities all over the country sharing best practices for everything from day care to aquatics. The national organization also oversees massive certifications for local instructors; sets the public and government related policy agenda; and issues and renews charters for all YMCAs.

The search process has yet to reach the stage of financial incentives, but Apple says there are plenty of available incentives that would interest a non-profit.

"The biggest difference between this and a for-profit (corporate headquarters relocation) is there is no particular value to state incentives relating to franchise and excise tax," Apple says.

Other incentives commonly sought by for-profits looking to relocate headquarters, such as work force development grants, infrastructure improvements and property tax freezes, are still relevant, he says.

The Chamber is pushing Downtown as the ideal location and enlisted the Center City Commission to help with the proposal.

CCC president Jeff Sanford wouldn't give details as to which sites were touted as the most suitable for a 260,000-square-foot headquarters building, but says multiple sites were available for new construction or an adaptive use project.

Apple says the city's bid for the YMCA USA headquarters is an example of the three to five times a year Memphis should "stretch" for high-quality projects for which it is a viable contender.

"(It allows us to) make a name for ourselves as a candidate for bigger and better projects," Apple says.

Lynch says the decision will be made by the national facilities task force consisting of eight board members and five staff members. She would not give a target date for a decision.

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