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Sarasota Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2019 1 year ago

Sarasota YMCA to close fitness branches

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The Evalyn Sadlier Jones branch and the Frank G. Berlin, Sr. branch will close Sept. 13.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

When the Sarasota YMCA’s Main Street branch closed in 2016, member Martha Schantz moved to the Frank G. Berlin Sr. branch. Now she will again have to find a new place to work out.

The two fitness branches of the Sarasota Family YMCA will close for good in September following years of financial losses.

The Evalyn Sadlier Jones branch, at 8301 Potter Park Drive, and the Frank G. Berlin Sr. branch, located at 1075 S. Euclid Ave., will close at 5 p.m. Sept. 13.

“I’m just devastated,” Schantz said. “It’s very sad.”

Interim CEO Steve Bourne said that 12 years ago, the fitness centers had 12,500 members. Now the centers are down to 6,500, a loss Bourne attributed to commercial and boutique gyms.

Administrative staffers also attempted to reach out to the national organization and other Florida YMCAs in an attempt to merge and sought Sarasota community funding without success. In 2017 federal tax documents, the organization showed a $1.6 million loss and a more than $900,000 loss the year before.

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” Bourne said. “Our hearts go out to everyone in the extended Sarasota YMCA family affected by this.”

One of the people affected, 15-year member Sergiu Pletosu, said he found out when he walked into the gym, and members were crying. Although he said he could easily find another gym, he couldn’t find the same atmosphere.

“I can get a $10 membership anywhere,” he said. “I renewed my membership two weeks ago for $70, but it’s more than just the money.”

Now, the Y-USA board will turn toward operating foster care and social services programs, which make up 80% of the Y’s operations. Bourne estimated the Y serves between 4,000 and 5,000 area youth.

“I personally think that the Sarasota YMCA is going to be a future model; we’re going to be a leader,” Bourne said. “Where everybody is used to having a fitness facility, [other Ys] will start to move into social services. We’re already there. We’ve been there for many years.”

Members will have access to both centers until 5 p.m. Sept. 13, though Bourne said the amenities might not all be offered.

Bourne cited the swimming pool as an example and said if there weren’t enough lifeguards, administration might consider cutting hours or closing it entirely.

The last membership payment draft will be Aug. 15. Those who have prepaid their annual or semi-annual membership fee will receive a prorated refund.

The Y’s before- and after-school programs will continue at Southside, Gocio and Fruitville elementary schools.

Bourne said the Y will try to help its employees in this time of transition. There are 18 full-time and 300 part-time employees in the two branches. Their last day of employment will be Sept. 21.

Interim CEO Steve Bourne answers questions about the YMCA's decision to close its fitness branches. Brynn Mechem

“All I can do is thank them,” he said. “I mean, that’s all I can do is I can thank them, and I’m sorry we’re in this position. The staff have been absolutely superb.”

One of the affected employees, Felipe Cava, a Y aerobics trainer, said he didn’t know how Sarasota would exist without a Y.

“This is more than losing a business; it’s losing a home,” Cava said. “It’s family run. It’s a family.”

Although Bourne would not rule out the possibility that it could bring back its fitness centers, he said it would take a lot of money.

“If there’s a Hail Mary out there, please step up,” he said. “It would be a lot of money. I don’t want to put a number on it. I don’t think it’s my position right now. It’d be a lot of money.”

Bourne said the facilities will need to be sold to satisfy the $2.4 million mortgage. He said buyers have already shown interest.

Although it is unclear what will happen to the complexes after they close, the Selby Aquatic Center will remain open. The Sarasota Sharks Swim Team took over pool operation in May 2018.

In an email sent to Sarasota Shark members, CEO Brent Arckey said Sarasota Sharks will continue to provide swim school, masters swimming, competitive and noncompetitive age group swimming and other programs.

Whitney Elfstrom contributed to this story.

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