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Vaughan Rising Podcast – Vaughan Metropolitan Centre YMCA: More Than a Gym

This blog is a summary of the Vaughan Rising Podcast Season 1 Episode 9 by the host, Michelle Samson. For more detail, listen to the full episode (links below).

About the episode

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is a new kind of downtown beckoning a new kind of community space. The City of Vaughan, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and SmartCentres put their heads together and came up with a state-of-the-art, urban community centre that will serve thousands of residents in Vaughan’s emerging downtown and beyond. The YMCA of Greater Toronto’s President and CEO, Medhat Mahdy, shares how it came together and what we can expect from the YMCA’s newest location.

Thoughts from the host

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is the city’s emerging downtown being built from scratch at highways 400 and 407. It’s a complete community with residential, office and retail uses anchored by a mobility hub that includes subway access to downtown Toronto.

While all the above are critical components, a community is not complete without the social amenities that bind them together.

That’s where the VMC Centre of Community comes in. It’s not your typical community centre: it’s a 100,000-square-foot, vertically-integrated collaboration between the City of Vaughan, Vaughan Public Libraries, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the building’s developer, SmartCentres.

To find out how this group came together, I invited Medhat Mahdy to the podcast. He’s the President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

He says the idea started in 2010 when they identified York Region as a prime expansion location due to the rapid population growth. They ran some programming in the region but didn’t have their centre yet. With that goal in mind, Medhat met with all the York Region mayors and found an eager partner in Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.

They decided to locate the facility in the VMC, but that came with a challenge: neither owned land near the subway station and none was for sale.

Enter SmartCentres. Their first office building in the VMC was off the ground, and they were just starting to design a second one. They agreed that a YMCA would be a great asset for the building and the emerging VMC community.

Medhat says communities built without social infrastructure tend to see difficulties 20 to 30 years later. By building the VMC Centre of Community, all partners are ensuring that a good quality of life is accessible to everyone, and people aren’t left behind.

Medhat calls the YMCA’s partnership with the City of Vaughan “very special and unique.” They appreciate that the City sees it as a relationship, rather than just a business transaction, and that a common vision is shared.

So, what exactly does this common vision mean for users of the VMC Centre of Community? It’s going to offer a wide range of amenities and programming, including a Vaughan Public Libraries branch, two pools, a basketball court, performing arts studios, a community kitchen, swimming lessons, youth leadership development, volunteer development and a daycare with the YMCA’s Playing to Learn curriculum.

Many of these offerings will be innovative and high tech. What’s also innovative is that the roster of programming won’t be static. The YMCA is going to map and monitor community well-being around the facility and adapt their programming as the community evolves.

Combining all these amenities in an office building is a new model for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, but one that’s likely to be their new standard. The stand-alone model of the 1980s is less feasible due to construction costs and limited land availability. The YMCA of Greater Toronto is building 10 new locations, and they’ve determined that collaborating with developers and municipalities to put YMCAs in mixed-use buildings is the way to go. It’s good for the bottom line and serves communities better by making the YMCA easily accessible to a wider audience.

Medhat calls the VMC location one of their first mixed-use successes. They’re using the model as a guide for their other developments.

This is particularly impressive because the VMC Centre of Community isn’t open yet. Construction is expected to finish sometime in 2020.

The other major item on the to-do list is to wrap up their sizable $14 million fundraising campaign. Donations can be made at vaughanYMCA.ca or by reaching out to any member of the Strong Start, Great Future Campaign Cabinet.

This episode was recorded at Vaughan City Hall.