YMCA Loses $6 Million Over Closings

Housing agency pulls grant for downtown projects

The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati unexpectedly lost a $6 million grant this week due to the recently announced closings of two branches in the city's urban core.

Lamont Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), announced the agency's decision during a public forum held at Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills.

Taylor told the more than 300-member crowd that the agency's board disliked how the YMCA handled the neighborhoods regarding the closing of the Melrose and Williams YMCA facilities. The grant was part of a multimillion-dollar renovation project of the Central Parkway YMCA and the Dennison Hotel on Main Street.

“The lack of respect you (YMCA leadership) have shown the community is a slap in the face and we decided not to be in partnership with an organization like this,” Taylor said, adding that several members of the CMHA board are also members of either the Melrose or Williams Ys.

In May, the CMHA board had initially approved funds for those projects with $2.8 million going toward the renovation of the top six floors at the Central Parkway YMCA and $3.3 million for the Dennison Hotel.

The grant would have helped trigger $18 million in additional investment to the Dennison project and $9.6 million toward the downtown YMCA renovations.

In addition to the CMHA decision, Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn said when council meets next week he will propose a resolution to cease all city funding to the YMCA until an effective solution can be found concerning Melrose and Williams facilities.

Taylor believes the YMCA leadership hadn't been a good corporate partner to the community. If the YMCA had acted differently in handling the closing of Melrose and Williams Ys, the board's action wouldn't have taken place, he said.

“You're only here because your arm had to be twisted and forced to listen to us,” he added.

Sandra Berlin Walker, president of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, hadn't agreed to attend the public forum until Tuesday morning. She was going to send a few board members to speak on the YMCA's behalf, but instead Walker and board chairman Michael Zorn appeared.

“The Y deeply respects and appreciates the rich history and legacy of both of these Ys,” Walker said.

The Melrose YMCA branch has evolved into an adult facility after participation in its programming dropped 50 percent during the past four years, she added. In 2010, 228 youths attended the day camp and its afterschool program there.

The Williams branch, Walker said, is no longer viable to meet the facility design needs of a YMCA. It would require unjustifiable capital improvement to continue its operation. Membership at Williams has dropped 29 percent over the last three years, with only 168 people utilizing the facility on a daily basis during an 16-hour day.

“Changing demographics and substantial overlap in the city core branch usage no longer warrant five full facilities in the city core,” she said. “The economic challenges over the past two years have reduced our ability to operate five city core branches during significant subsidies. Over the past 12 months, we have reduced staff, cut salaries and managed expenses at all of our Ys.”

Also, Walker noted both Melrose and Williams had a large number of people from Norwood drive specifically to these branches to use the facilities, even though Norwood has its own branch.

Throughout the two-hour public forum, board members along with several Cincinnati City Council members listened as YMCA users asked the organization's leadership to delay the closings.

The diverse crowd spoke constantly of the friendship, loyalty to the facilities and their willingness to drive to these branches.

“We are not children, and yet we have been treated as such,” said longtime Williams YMCA member Laura Carr. “We have suffered through the indignities of shoddy equipment, minimal upkeep of facilities, a reduction of programs and services, decreases in classes, minimal managerial oversight and facilities that are markedly less than those provided to the Central Y and suburban YMCAs, Clippard in Colrain Township, R.C. Durr in Florence, M.E. Lyons in Anderson Township and Blue Ash.

“The physical condition of the Williams and Melrose Ys are evidence of the calculated neglect to justify the closure of these two buildings.”

Several speakers challenged the YMCA and the criteria it used in deciding to close the Melrose and Williams branches. In fact, former City Councilman Sam Malone said that both branches had exceeded their fund-raising goals with Williams at146 percent and Melrose at 104 percent. He noted that Williams led the YMCA system in fund-raising.

“The numbers don't add up,” Malone said. His comments were repeated several times by both council members and other speakers.

“We've been told that it is not financially viable to keep these Ys open. We ask that the Y leadership show us the numbers … not only of Williams and Melrose … but of the entire Y system. We need to know the comparables, especially since we are the only Ys slated for closing,” Carr said.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls questioned the YMCA's leadership decision because the Walnut Hills area is on the verge of being revitalized and a number of development companies are investing in the area.

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