Brantford’s new downtown athletics and recreation centre took another $1-million step closer to becoming reality on Thursday.
Long-time Brantford residents Steve and Helen Kun and their family donated $1 million to the Laurier Brantford YMCA Athletics and Recreation Centre.
The crowd applauded as Max Blouw, Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor, announced the total in the lobby of the SC Johnson Building.
“This is remarkable generosity,” Blouw said.
To recognize their donation, the centre’s main entrance from Water Street will be named for the Kun family.
It was the second $1-million donation by a local family in one month. Burford’s Roger and Edith Davis, founders of Davis Fuels, donated $1 million toward the complex’s state-of-the-art aquatic centre on March 18.
The centre is a joint venture between Wilfrid Laurier University and the YMCA of Hamilton-Burlington-Brantford. The $58.4-million facility is planned for the south side of Colborne Street across from Harmony Square in Brantford's core.
The Kun family’s gift isn’t without some irony.
Kun owned nearly half of the 41 deteriorating properties on the south side of Colborne Street that were expropriated by the city in the fall of 2009 and demolished. The new recreation centre will take up part of that land.
Kun filed a notice of arbitration and statement of claim with the Ontario Municipal Board in 2010 seeking more than $11 million in compensation from the city. The case closed in 2013 without ever going to a hearing, according to the OMB.
Richard Kun represented his parents at the announcement. During an interview with Brant News, he acknowledged that some people blamed his father for the deterioration of downtown Brantford.
“Downtowns in many cities deteriorated after growth went from retail in downtown to malls,” he said.
His family acquired the properties for the purpose of investment, he said.
Brant’s two senior government representatives, MP Phil McColeman and MPP Dave Levac, praised the Kuns during the event.
McColeman said Steven Kun and his company, Steven’s Aluminum, inspired him in business.
“At one point in time I called your dad because I felt that he was, frankly, being maligned in this community in many ways in terms of some of the things people were saying about him,” said McColeman, who was president of the local homebuilders association at the time, addressing Richard with the remarks.
“It’s nice to hear,” Richard Kun said of the support. “My parents have been a part of the community for a long time and contributed in many ways, not only to Laurier but to charities and education. It’s important to give back.”
The recreation centre is considered the next step in the revitalization of downtown Brantford.
It will be home to more than 7,000 members made up of students from Laurier, Nipissing and Six Nations Polytechnic and citizens from Brantford, the County of Brant and Six Nations.
“It really will be a place where community comes together,” said Jim Commerford, president and CEO of the YMCA.
Work is expected to begin this summer and the goal is to open the facility in September 2016.
Fourth-year criminology student Alysha Emerson said she chose Laurier Brantford over Brock University because of athletics. She plays soccer, volleyball, softball, track and football and is also a fitness instructor. She said the new centre would greatly benefit students.
“Our sports clubs currently have a very limited space for practices, especially in the winter months. As we all know, this past winter was not too friendly and we were often forced to practice on ice, on the street or cancel practice altogether,” she said.
Richard Kun said his parents were “delighted” to be part of the project but could not attend the announcement for health reasons. Their grandson Jason Kun is a Laurier Brantford student.
The provincial and federal governments have each committed $16.7 million to the project, with the City of Brantford committing $5.2 million. There is also a community fundraising campaign underway seeking to secure $5 million.