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East County Wednesday, May 27, 2020 1 year ago

Pandemic puts Manatee County YMCA at risk

After the nonprofit was making financial gains, COVID-19 cut the Y's membership in half.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

When Sarasota’s Frank Frey assumed the helm of the Manatee County YMCA in late February, he knew he was walking into a job full of challenges. 

In July 2019, the organization had seen a 15% drop in membership which led to staff members having their salaries and positions cut. The Manatee County YMCA had cut costs $602,000 the previous 12 months and operated at a $140,000 profit in the first six months of 2019. 

“The first two months of (2020) were showing financial improvement over the prior year,” Frey said. “March did not because we closed the facility.”

The YMCA closed its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic March 16 and reopened with reduced capacities May 20.

“COVID-19 challenged everything,” he said. “We’ve never been here before. How we navigate through this is totally new to us.”

Like at other businesses and agencies, there already have been furloughs and layoffs and continued fixed costs despite dips in revenues. 

Frey said about 50% of its 5,449 memberships, which includes individual and family memberships, were dropped or put on hold after the Manatee County YMCA closed facilities March 16. The other 50% of members continued paying membership dues, considering them a donation. The Lakewood Ranch YMCA had the most members of any branch — 2,859 — before March 16 compared with 1,640 at Bradenton and 950 in Parrish.

Frey believes the Manatee County YMCA will be OK through the remainder of the year

“We’re in a position of cautious optimism,” Frey said. 

The YMCA’s operating budget is about $5.2 million, of which about a quarter of those are fixed costs. Frey said a break-even budget would be about $3.75 million just for the basic necessities to stay open.

Based on figures from January to April and projected for the remainder of the year, operations need to be around $2 million, Frey said.

“We have to make it a wash or we’re not sustainable,” Frey said. “That’s the challenge.”

“I don’t know if it’s sustainable (past the end of the year under current conditions),” Frey said, noting there’s no way to know if COVID-19 will return or if government restrictions could come back into effect in the future. “We’re planning on the worst case scenario. That forecasts a continued membership drop."

Lakewood Ranch YMCA lifeguard Tara Lunsford disinfects high-touch areas of the pool between 45-minute reserved swimming sessions.

Frey said staff members are computing numbers almost daily to ensure the YMCA can continue operating, just as other businesses are doing. The question, he said, is whether people will go out and spend their dollars on memberships.

Despite the financial uncertainties ahead, the Manatee County YMCA is looking to find a new home for its Parrish branch, formerly at 12214 U.S. 301 N., Parrish. The YMCA announced the closure May 6.

Frey said the YMCA had been operating under a month-to-month lease there since October 2014, and the YMCA could not commit to new proposed terms by its landlord, the Parrish Foundation. The addition of the new monthly rent, on top of operating and maintaining the 1920s-era building, would have made it difficult to operate the YMCA there in a pre-COVID-19 environment.

“It was a long-term lease with no opt-out clause,” Frey said. “We couldn’t do that in these economic times. It was an unreasonable request.”

The branch will be vacated by July 1. 

Frey said although the Lakewood Ranch YMCA location may get some of those members, he is not sure there will be a significant “uptick” of members from Parrish shifting to the Lakewood Ranch location. Typically, members stay within 12 minutes of their home unless they are coming for a particular program, such as Masters Swimming league or a recreational soccer program. 

He said the closure of the Parrish branch will have a net neutral effect on the YMCA’s overall budget.

Frey said the Manatee YMCA has reduced hours to allow more time for cleaning, and is spacing out the use of equipment to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Guests are reserving class spots online and classes are being limited to a ratio of one instructor per nine participants. 

East County's Meghan Rumbaugh participates in a group exercise class at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. "It's wonderful to be back," she says.


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