Sarasota YMCA board to vote today on future of fitness centers – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

City commissioner promises to help facilitate any agreement to save the Frank G. Berlin Campus on Euclid Avenue and Evalyn Sadlier Jones branches.

SARASOTA — Sarasota YMCA Board members met behind closed doors Tuesday, following weeks of whirlwind negotiations by a newly formed citizen’s action group and a local dual-language school, to vote on a proposal that could save the Y’s two fitness centers.

The proposal had been submitted on Friday.

Thousands of the YMCA’s members were waiting to see whether they would be able to continue to tap the fitness centers, a convenient place to stretch and build their physique for some, a critical social-gathering spot and home-away-from-home for others.

Hours before board members arrived at the organization’s headquarters at the Kane Plaza for the 4 p.m. meeting, Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody had offered the city’s support to facilitate any agreement to keep the local YMCA branches open.

“It’s my understanding the Sarasota YMCA Board of Directors will be making some extremely tough and important decisions regarding the future of our local Y facility within the City of Sarasota and County,” Brody wrote. “On our end, myself and the City of Sarasota stand ready and willing to help facilitate the implementation of any agreement stemming from the continued negotiations to save our local YMCA.

“That includes fast tracking any permitting or zoning changes necessary and support any and all appropriate waivers allowable by law in order to keep this community asset viable. I have been following this issue closely and am encouraged and optimistic at the progress made, and sincerely thank all those involved in this effort.”

Read more: Complete coverage of the Sarasota YMCA closures.

Details of the plan remained unclear, but Thomas Chaffee — chairman of the Dreamers Academy, a new dual-language charter — announced his group’s efforts to purchase a large swath of the Berlin campus on Friday. Chaffee said that the Academy’s plan to buy six acres behind the campus is “foundational to the turnaround plan. That’s the foundation around which everything is being structured.”

YMCA president and CEO Steve Bourne announced nearly a month ago that board members reluctantly chose to close the centers because of dwindling membership, the increase of commercial gyms, the $4 million in debt that the organization faced and $2 million in capital improvements, building repairs and necessary equipment purchases. YMCA leader said they would continue to operate the child welfare and youth development programming that accounted for 80% of the organization’s total revenue last year — social services exclusively funded by government contracts.

The announcement stunned YMCA members caught off-guard by the decision, though many acknowledged that they had noticed a decline in services in recent years.

Financial troubles

A review of the YMCA’s finances showed longtime auditor Kerkering, Barberio & Co. issued a dire warning to the board that, “There is substantial doubt about the organization’s ability to continue in its current form as a going concern within one year after March 29, 2019,” in the annual audit.

YMCA members formed the group “Save Our Y” to look for solutions that would keep the YMCA branches open. They hosted a town hall meeting at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones Y involving board members that quickly boiled down to a shouting match and was stopped.

The committee members vowed to continue working to reverse the board’s decision. They created the the website — set up to accept pledges until a nonprofit can be established — that they say has achieved 30% of a goal of raising $1.2 million by the middle of September. As of Aug. 20, committee members said they had received pledges of more than $525,000.

On Friday, the board members, the Save Our Y committee and Dreamers Academy released a joint statement that enough of the framework of a plan was in place put it up for a vote.

Bourne told the Herald-Tribune that a conference call was held with stakeholders Tuesday morning morning and that a vote would be held at the 4 p.m. meeting, adding that public would informed of the board’s decision Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Save Our Y spokeswoman Lucia Barrett was optimistic that the deal would be approved.

“We have accomplished in a month what would easily take a year under normal circumstances. We worked days and nights and weekends to get this far. I’m pretty sure we are very positive about what’s going to happen today,” Barrett said. “All the numbers are in place and all the people are in place. We have every reason to believe we will succeed.”

Barrett credits an assembly of “wonderful people,” including lawyers, bankers and business people, who donated their time to create the proposal. She compared saving the YMCA fitness centers to saving a town.

“It’s something I’m not willing to let go,” she said. “This is our village. I don’t see how you close a village and all the people in it.”

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