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Leaders: Fayetteville YMCA's new wounded warrior center will benefit community

Local leaders said Wednesday they are are optimistic about the YMCA's plan to build a $20 million wellness center geared to injured soldiers.

The Wounded Warrior Center: A Living Monument, will be part museum, and part recreation and rehabilitation center.

"I think it's a worthy thing for the YMCA to expand their facilities to include athletic equipment for wounded warriors because they have very specific needs," said Don Talbot, a Vietnam veteran and former city councilman. "They have their mind in the right place; we have a lot of wounded people here from all wars."

Membership to the 110,000 square-foot facility will be free to injured soldiers and open to the public through the YMCA.

Ben Abel, a Fort Bragg spokesman, said military leaders are looking forward to finding out more about the project.

"We don't know the details of the proposal, but we welcome any effort by any members of the American public to reach out and assist our veterans," he said.

The multi-use wellness hub will have three indoor pools, including a 10-lane competition-style pool with seating for 500 people.

Michael Gibson, director of Fayetteville-Cumberland Park and Recreation, said additional aquatic space is definitely a plus.

"It's a good thing anytime you can have more facilities for our growing communities," he said.

The city, with just one public pool, has long lacked adequate facilities, an issue leaders sought to remedy through a failed bond referendum several years ago.

That means even with the Wounded Warrior Center, the need will be far from met, Gibson said.

"We have 16 middle schools and no middle school swim teams," Gibson said. "You've got to have the water to have swimming programs."

Rick Houp, CEO of the YMCA of the Sandhills, expects the facility, the first of its kind in the country, to help spur economic development and tourism.

"The project would not only be a major win for Fayetteville and Cumberland County, but the entire state of North Carolina," he said.

John Meroski, CEO of the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the center could draw traffic from not only members of the armed forces, but family and friends who come to visit.

"If it is a one-of-a-kind facility, there will be an interest factor in coming to see what it offers," he said.

Meroski said he supports any way to give back veterans.

"The business impact is secondary," he said. "First and foremost, we have to stand up and take care of our men and women."

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