A century-old community center in the heart of an inner-city neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts is facing an uncertain future. Officials fear the center may be sold at a foreclosure auction before the summer is out.
The basketball gym at the Dunbar Community Center, where countless youngsters – including future NBA stars Travis Best and Vinny Del Negro – learned the game, could soon go quiet and dark. Community leaders have been trying for months to stave off the forced sale of the historic center, which they now believe is imminent.
Kirk Smith, the CEO of the Greater Springfield YMCA, said community leaders, elected officials, and donors have all been briefed on the efforts made over the last several months to avert foreclosure by the mortgage-holder, Republic Financial Corporation. The Y operates the programs at the community center, but does not own the building.
"This is a public safety issue, this is social justice issue. If Dunbar closes we are talking about catastrophic consequences for this community," said Smith.
Dunbar Inc. took out a $1.6 million mortgage in 2000, according to public records. Smith said a little more than $1 million is still owed. No date for a foreclosure auction has been advertised.
Smith said if the building is sold, he hopes the new owners will let the Y remain.
" I am hopeful that at the end of this we will come up with some resolution that works for everybody so we can stay here and serve people."
The Springfield Y took over the programming at Dunbar in 2011 when the center was struggling financially and membership was plummeting. Smith said there are more than 3,500 Dunbar Y members now from children to senior citizens. He said the Y subsidizes $100,000 of the annual operating expenses at Dunbar.
Smith said if Dunbar closes, the Y will attempt to move programs to other locations in the Mason Square neighborhood such as schools and church basements, but he said it won’t be as effective as having everything under one roof.
Tracy Thomas, who has been coming to Dunbar since she was a child and now teaches aerobics, said she and the others in an exercise class Wednesday morning prayed about the center’s future.
"This is home. It just needs to be here."
Congressman Richard Neal, a former mayor of Springfield, has reportedly been involved in negotiations over the future of Dunbar, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year.
City Councilor Tom Ashe, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said centers such as Dunbar play an important role in curbing youth violence.
"This place has legacy and a real history that people appreciate. Great athletes and entertainers have spent time at Dunbar. It is worth the effort for everyone to stand up and say this a critical part of this city and this neighborhood," added Ashe.
The community center in Springfield’s South End neighborhood was destroyed by the 2011 tornado and has yet to be replaced.