Bringing the Y Back to Downtown Kansas City

Bringing the Y Back to Downtown Kansas City

When our goals are so closely aligned with a client, there is a shared enjoyment in the work we do, and the results showcase this effective collaboration. The YMCA genuinely cares for the community and serves as a hub for community services and outreach. Their goals to encourage healthy living; of body, mind, and soul resonated with our design team and are a great asset for the downtown core of Kansas City. Bringing these themes together to give new life to a beautiful and iconic historic building through the design of the Kirk Family YMCA has been a true joy for our BNIM team.

Bringing Renewed Purpose to Kansas City’s Historic Lyric Theatre

Located on the 11th street corridor of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the historic building known to many as the Lyric Theatre is redesigned to thrive again in its fifth life.

Originally constructed as the Ararat Shrine Temple (c. 1926) that served the Kansas City Shriners, the Lyric Theatre has continued to contribute to the Kansas City area in different ways during its lifetime, including operating as the KMBC radio broadcast station for Midland Broadcasting (1947) and later KMBC-TV; the Capri Theatre (1957); as well as space for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, giving the building its Lyric Theatre namesake (1970). After construction of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts which created a new home for the Lyric Opera in 2011, the Lyric Theatre was dormant and awaited new life. 

Left to Right -  Lyric Theatre Historic Lobby,  Exterior view of Existing Building (Featuring former role as KMBC-TV broadcast studio)

In 2016, the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, alongside BNIM, began studying the building for reuse as a new full service Downtown YMCA. Our team worked with the Y, Historic Kansas City, and members of the downtown community to envision, design, and construct the beautiful downtown amenity that you see today.

A key goal of this adaptive reuse project was to preserve original streetscape massing and the historic character of the existing theatre while supporting the Y's programmatic needs, unique to a health and fitness center. The resulting design is a facility that celebrates and interweaves historical features with renewed purpose and modern-day use.


Left to Right - Existing Building, Partial Demolition, Designed Intervention

The beautiful historic lobby, open stairs, and ornamental ceilings are restored, and the west façade is carefully reconstructed to blend seamlessly with the existing fabric of the area. After significant studies for reuse of interior spaces, it was determined that restructuring the existing amphitheater portion of the building allowed for important functional and accessibility updates.  

Designing a Multifaceted Fitness and Community Center

At the heart of the YMCA is a focus on helping individuals to lead healthier lives and supporting community connection. The new Kirk Family YMCA is the first full-service YMCA downtown in over 20 years and is positioned to serve the diverse downtown community as a new neighborhood resource.

The Kirk Family YMCA provides spaces for adult and youth sports programming, functional training areas for cardio and strength, group fitness studios, indoor track, basketball court, a four-lane practice lap pool and family aquatics pool, kids’ zone, and an outdoor sports field which is built atop the building’s stormwater detention facility that can store up to a 72-hour period of stormwater. This feature allows one hundred percent of stormwater to be stored on-site and reduces the impact of flash flooding in the area, aligned with KCMO’s downtown stormwater policy.

In addition to these health and fitness amenities, the YMCA provides four community meeting rooms and a demonstration kitchen that create spaces for community meetings, training, healthy cooking and language classes, and the YMCA’s community support services. Our team also worked to support the relationship between the Kirk Family YMCA and its new community neighbor, Crossroads Charter Schools. The new facility will host school programs for students, such as swim classes and fitness activities on the outdoor sports field.

Promoting Wellness in Equitable and Sustainable Design

Health, wellness, and equity were the main drivers behind many design decisions on this project. Our team aimed to make the building feel welcoming, safe, and accessible to all. Gender inclusive and family friendly private changing rooms are available to every YMCA visitor, and additional lockers are distributed through-out the facility for greater accessibility. Significant updates to code standards of the existing building exceed standard ADA guidelines, providing multiple paths to entry and enhanced interior accessibility and wayfinding.

The Kirk Family YMCA’s sustainable strategies focus on the areas of energy, carbon, water, wellness, and equity — an approach that is implemented in all BNIM projects and especially important for the YMCA’s goals of promoting community health and wellness. Our team utilized healthy building materials and finishes, opened spaces to generous daylight and views, improved building systems for excellent air and water quality, created capacity for future renewable energy sources, and reduced embodied carbon by nearly 50 percent through adaptive reuse strategies.


Impact in the Greater KC Area

As an international non-profit organization with expansive impact, the YMCA has a community presence that resonates on a local scale. In the Greater Kansas City Area, the YMCA has contributed to this community for 160+ years, both through facilities and programs that promote well-being and support neighbors [1]. In 2019, the YMCA of Greater KC positively impacted 129,767 individuals through healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility [2].

We were excited to help the Kirk Family YMCA officially welcome the Y back to Downtown Kansas City at its ribbon cutting celebration on October 14, and we look forward to seeing how the Kirk Family YMCA will help connect Kansas City in healthy living, fitness, and community.

[1] YMCA of Greater Kansas City
[2] YMCA of Greater Kansas City 2019 Annual Report