The Scott County Family Y quietly signed a deal last month to buy a signature piece of property in downtown Davenport, a $2.5 million agreement that has the potential to transform the eastern gateway to the city’s central business district.

The Y’s immediate plans are to build a new child care center on the former W.G. Block property that stretches from East 4th Street and River Drive nearly to Iowa Street. The venture is being undertaken with the Women’s Leadership Council, an arm of the United Way of the Quad-Cities Area.

Officials also say, however, they bought the property knowing that sometime in the future it is destined to become the home of its downtown operation.

YMCA officials stress their plans for a new downtown Y are in the distant future — probably five to 10 years away — and that it’s currently focused on building the new early learning center there and raising $4 million to upgrade its main Y building downtown, as well as its branches in north and west Davenport, Bettendorf and at Camp Abe Lincoln in rural Scott County.

Still, the timing was too good to pass up.

“This was a golden opportunity,” said Frank Klipsch, outgoing chief executive officer of the Scott County Family Y.

The YMCA has 30,000 members. Its three Davenport branches and the one in Bettendorf get 86,000 visits a month.

The YMCA partnered with the Bechtel Trusts and Foundation, the Women’s Leadership Council and the Chris and Mary Rayburn family, who owned the land, to put $1.5 million toward the purchase, Klipsch said.

Another $1 million is still owed on the property, and Y officials hope to raise the rest of the money to complete the purchase by the end of this year.

The 13-acre parcel, which is located north of the Quad-City Times building, had been an industrial site for years.

Finding a new use

Block moved its ready mix operations to the riverfront in the late 1990s, and since then, the plot of land has been considered a prime development site because of its location at the downtown’s eastern gateway.

Chris Rayburn, the longtime chief executive at Block, said he’s always hoped to turn it over to a use that would benefit the community.

“We’ve had several ideas come our way for that property. Many of them were unfunded, or they were just good ideas that got explored for a few years then went away,” he said last week. “We’re really excited this came along and we were able to work with the Y and facilitate a development down there at what we think is a key gateway to downtown.”

Klipsch said the new child care center will move the organization closer toward the goal of bringing together children from all income stratas to an improved learning environment.

“It’s a commitment to a brighter future,” he said.

It also will boost capacity by about 20 percent and consolidate operations now located in the basement of the downtown Y and at a separate location on Harrison Street. If demand is high enough, officials say, they’ll continue using the Harrison Street location, which is a partnership with Palmer College of Chiropractic. YMCA officials say they’re probably at least a year away from breaking ground on the new child care facility.

YMCA officials say they are proud of their quality of care but they can’t achieve the state’s top quality rating with their operation in the basement of the downtown YMCA, where there are no windows. They say the new operation will educate kids in a state-of-the-art facility with space for outdoor gardens, a children’s kitchen and separate classrooms.

Short- and long-term plans

Klipsch and the Y’s new chief executive, Brad Martell, explained the organization’s plans in an interview last week. Martell began work as chief executive last week. Klipsch, who has headed the Y for 25 years, began as the president of its new Youth and Family Foundation.

YMCA officials said the child care venture with the Women’s Leadership Council sprung from a response to the council’s request for proposals in its effort to improve early-learning opportunities for preschool-age children in the Quad-Cities.

A United Way official said the group is seeking to raise $2.5 million for the new early learning center, which will be operated by the YMCA.

“This is what the kids deserve,” said Linda Bowers, a founder of the Women’s Leadership Council and a member of its steering committee.

No precise plans have been drawn up, but United Way officials say they anticipate a 12,000-square-foot building.

“We’re very, very early,” said Jerry Jones, chief operating officer of the United Way of the Quad-Cities.

It’s not clear where on the Block property the new center would be located, either. Martell said the Y will be engaging in a long-term planning process for use of the land.

The developments come at an already busy time for the YMCA.

It is in the midst of raising $3.96 million for existing facilities, and officials say they are eager to get donors to contribute to that effort.

As for the future of the main branch at 606 W. 2nd St., Davenport, YMCA officials say they haven’t yet begun planning for that transition.

“We’re going to be at that location for another five years,” Klipsch said.

Still, the downtown Y has been at its present location since 1963, and officials are excited by the new property’s location and its size.

It also is close to a handful of downtown residential units that have sprung up over the past few years.

“It is the future of the Y downtown,” Klipsch said.