Both YMCA locations in Sarasota County to remain open with plan involving three groups

Saving Sarasota's YMCA

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The finance chairman of the Save Our Y Advisory Committee, Charlie Campbell, tells ABC7 that the Frank G. Berlin Senior Branch on South Euclid Avenue and the Evalyn Sadlier Jones Branch on Potter Park Drive will remain open.

The Sarasota Family YMCA board has agreed in principle on a plan from Dreamers Academy, Save Our Y and Project Stoked to keep the fitness centers open. Though details have not yet been announced, the groups say the plan will see improvements to both facilities and the retention of many members of the current YMCA staff.

“Agreeing to the core framework took tremendous teamwork, dedication and like any good movie, the last-minute arrival of a knight in shining armor in the form of Jon Graf and Anya Adams from Project Stoked who are providing the bridge capital in order to make it happen,” said Thomas Chaffee, Chair of Dreamers Academy.

Project Stoked is a not-for-profit corporation that invests resources to help organizations become profitable.

“We are thrilled to be investing in a project with such a high social return,” said Anya Adams. “As a firm, we are committed to creating positive social impact, and as members of the Sarasota Y, when we heard about the closure, we immediately jumped in.”

The new organization will be called “The Sarasota Y," to differentiate it from the Sarasota Family YMCA, will have a transitional board made up of current stakeholders and will be led by Jim Purdy, former COO of the Sarasota Family YMCA, as Interim President.

“The incredible community support shown through the pledges to donate have had a tremendous impact,” said Charlie Campbell, Chair of The Sarasota Y. “We urge members and friends to go to our web site www.saveoury.org, and continue donating so that we can hit the $1.2 million mark by the time new management takes over operations.”

More details about the agreement will be released in the coming days.

Last month, the Sarasota Family YMCA notified its staff and members that it planned to close its two remaining fitness centers by September 13th, citing declining membership and program participation. The move would have put 340 people out of work.

The Sarasota Family YMCA says their leaders and board members considered closure as a “last possible alternative” and the decision came after “substantial cost cutting, changes to pricing, modifications of program offerings, and other actions failed to make a measurable improvement.” The organization said it even attempted to merge its fitness centers with other YMCAs, without success, and tried to raise money from prominent members of the community.

The Sarasota Family YMCA didn’t tell ABC7 exactly how much it would take to save their facilities but in 2017 there was a loss reported of over 1.5 million dollars. Their plan was to sell both properties to pay off the more than 2 million dollar mortgage.

Interim CEO Steve Bourne spoke at a past press conference about their financial struggles, saying, “About 12 years ago we had 12,500 members. We now have 6,500 members between the two branches. In that 10 years, a huge number of commercial gyms, those have all taken away memberships.”

Former CEO of the Sarasota Family YMCA, Carl Weinrich, argued it was poor decisions that destroyed a culture for employees and members.

“Things were changing and they needed to change and they weren’t really changing. They were just trying to figure out a way to keep it going, selling off assets.”

Weinrich held that top position from 1975 to 2009, a total of 34 years, surviving the economic downturn in 2008 and keeping pace with growth until 2013. But he says the leadership as of late was sub-par when it came to fundraising.

“To think there were periods a couple years ago we could have done some things to turn it around and develop a better relationship between the Y board and the foundation board. When we lost the foundation, that was the beginning of the end.”

The community came out in force to try to prevent the Sarasota Family YMCA locations from closing, quickly forming the Save Our Y Advisory Committee. More than 1,200 people attended a meeting about the closure, as did politicians, including State Senator Joe Gruters and Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler.

"It is truly about the mind, body and spirit of the individual. A lot of the seniors in particular depend on the Y as a big part of their social life and a lot of them are there with Parkinson’s. All those kind of things are way outside of the normal fitness issue and are going to be a huge loss,” said Weinrich.

It now appears their efforts were successful.

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