Two groups have started petitions and created business proposals to save the Frank G. Berlin and Evalyn Sadlier Jones branches.
In one room at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA, the sound of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” lifted the spirits of a group exercise class while furrowed brows in the room adjacent told a much different story.
The group Save Our Y, which began with Lucia Barrett and Jim Becherer, has grown so large in numbers that the small meeting room could barely hold it.
The duo first sprang into action after hearing the Sarasota YMCA plans to close its two fitness branches Sept. 13 and focus on foster care and social services programs.
After Barrett and Becherer organized a town hall-style meeting that drew more than 1,000 people, Save Our Y gained a variety of members, such as lawyers, businesspeople, donors and former Y committee members, Barrett said.
From there, the group set to work forming a management system, creating a business proposal and preparing fundraising efforts. Although Barrett said she is unsure of what will happen at this point, she said there is potential purchasing interest from local businesspeople who want to keep the Jones branch, at 8301 Potter Park Drive, functioning as a community center.
“In no circumstance, in our view, will it not remain a community center,” Barrett said. “Whether it will be the Y, or if Pizza Hut wants to come and buy it and run the whole thing, it would be called the Pizza Hut Community Center. Either way, it will be a community center.”
Similar efforts are being made at the Frank G. Berlin branch, located at 1075 S. Euclid Ave., by the group Save Sarasota Gym, led by Larry Silvermintz.
Silvermintz, who has impaired eyesight, lives in Alta Vista and walks to the Y daily. Should the gym close, he said he would lose his independence.
“I would become dependent on drivers or walk 2 miles to L.A. Fitness, which has a much smaller number of lanes in the pool and a very different community feel,” Silvermintz said.
Save Sarasota Gym has a petition that has 1,500 signatures and counting. Silvermintz said this number proves there is community support for the gyms.
“There is definitely strength in numbers, both because these are people who support in potential donations and are just showing how important this is in their sense of values and important in their sense of community,” he said. “It shows their potential desire or intent to remain members and donors.”
Last week, there was a glimmer of hope when the Y board received an offer for a purchase of 6 of the 8.7 acres of the Frank G. Berlin branch.
The Y would then maintain ownership of the 2.7-acre parcel on which the fitness center sits.
But the deadline for the purchase was Monday morning, and the board passed on the decision.
Monday evening, dozens of Y members, donned in yellow shirts, attended a City Commission meeting to ask for help.
“It’s a public health issue that it gives a mass of people the opportunity to be healthy, to rehabilitate and just to be fit,” Silvermintz said at the meeting. “It’s people of all economic strata. It’s a complete gym.”
In an email to city commissioners, Director of Parks and Recreation Jerry Fogle said the city has taken several steps to accommodate programming that will be lost by the Y closure.
Possible relocations include a Sit ‘n’ Fit class at the Berlin branch and several aquatic fitness programs moving to Arlington Park Pool, as well as Y fitness instructor classes and adult and youth basketball leagues relocating to the Robert L. Taylor Complex.
Additionally, the city is in the process of hiring a Y lifeguard, the email said.
Although these steps are helpful, Barrett said the end goal is to keep the gym open. The branches are set to close Sept. 13, though she is hopeful for an extension.
Keeping the doors open another month would require $17,000 to satisfy the mortgage, and Y Interim CEO Steve Bourne said the organization has no money to keep the doors open past Sept. 13, but if a donor were to step in, he’d be open to it.