In July 2019, officials announced both branches of the Sarasota YMCA would close.
Now, after eight months of grassroots efforts to keep the doors open, Save Our Y leaders have forged a deal that gives the organization ownership of the Frank G. Berlin Sr. and Evalyn Sadlier Jones branches.
The $4.4 million real estate transaction was made possible by two $500,000 gifts from Y members Jon and Libby Soderberg and an anonymous donor. Another $3.3 million will be a mortgage underwritten by Servisfirst Bank.
“I’m just really excited and so overwhelmed by the response of this community to help us get the job done,” said Charlie Campbell, chairman of the transitional board. “This is really a March miracle. I’ve never really seen anything like this in my life.”
Save Our Y leaders have been working to secure the land purchase since November 2019. They signed multiple short term leases while working on a deal.
But the transaction doesn’t just mark a change in ownership. With the purchase comes a new name for the organization: Our Y.
“It really is to reflect the feeling that our Y is the community Y,” Campbell said. “We are purchasing this for the community, and so it truly is Our Y. It’s the members’ Y; it’s the employees’ Y; it’s the donors’ Y. Everyone who has stuck with us since day one, they’re really the owners of this operation.”
Because the previous Sarasota Family YMCA, now called Safe Children Coalition, offered the properties at a below-market purchase price, Our Y is allowing the organization to operate its adolescent and youth services on the property at no charge for three years.
“We all win in this,” Campbell said. “They can continue to do the good work in the community that they’ve always done, and I hope they continue to do. We win because get fitness centers for the health and wellness of the community.”
Campbell said he and other leaders would like to work to pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible to be able to operate the branches for decades to come without other issues.
However, he said the purchase could not have been possible without the nearly $1 million in community donations that was put toward operating capital and the $1 million in donations put toward the purchase.
When Libby and Jon Soderberg first heard the Ys were closing, they were shocked. They immediately gave a donation to help save the organization, but as time went on, they felt they could do more.
“Purchasing the property was the last big hurdle in front of them,” Libby Soderberg said. “We were just passionate about the fact that we wanted to do something meaningful to help them and all the people that love to be there and go there.”
Now that Our Y has the property purchased, Campbell said leaders can begin focusing on other issues.
For example, the group is starting a Grow Our Y campaign to garner more involvement in the Y, something Jon Soderberg hopes will be possible now that the buildings are purchased.
“I think to have the uncertainty removed from the equation will really send a message to the community that there is support [and]a viable path going forward with the ownership of the facilities,” he said.
Leaders also hope to get the Y license back that was lost under previous ownership.
For now though, Campbell is happy to have secured the future of the Ys.
“The Y is not just a gym,” Campbell said. “It’s groups of folks who really need a place they can go for community. And we are happy to be able to give that to them.”