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A Save the Y phone-a-thon has brought encouraging results for the embattled Washington Avenue branch, but some say YMCA officials still aren’t behind the effort

by Elizabeth Knapp on February 18, 2010

A press conference was held at Albany’s Washington Avenue YMCA Tuesday to express community support for the facility. In December, J. David Brown, the president and CEO of Capital District YMCA, had announced that the branch was to be shuttered and that the only way to keep it open would be to increase its membership from 1,800 to 2,500 by April.

Brown was joined by the Save the Y Task Force, which consists of members of surrounding neighborhood associations, as well as city officials and YMCA patrons.

The task force was formed immediately after the announcement that the Y was in danger of closing. The task force has been holding a phone-a-thon for weeks, calling new and existing members of the Y encouraging them to join or renew their membership. The phone-a-thon yielded more than 400 new members, an effort that seemed to bring the branch’s total membership up to roughly 2,200, just 300 shy of what was initially set as the goal to reach in April.

“I call people all day,” said Julie Maynes, president of the Park South Neighborhood Association. “People are pretty willing to bring their friends, which is great.”

And while there is reason for optimism behind these gains in membership, Brown cautioned against it. According to a conversation overheard between Brown and Mike Conners, the Albany County comptroller, while there might be a gain of 400 new members, that doesn’t take into account any recent membership terminations.

When asked by Metroland for clarification, Brown did not respond.

According to Conners, who has been invited by Brown to examine the membership numbers for the Y branch, the YMCA doesn’t appear very invested in the effort to keep the facility open. “There’s no real big desire that I can see for the Y, institutionally, to stay open,” Conners told Metroland. “This group of people has gotten 400 people to join in six weeks. If the institution itself put that kind of effort into it, you could get the members you need.”

“The real reason, in my opinion, that the Y is in trouble,” said Conners, “is that somebody, somewhere down the line found out that the real estate is worth more than the operation. And if we don’t fight for this place, they’re going to close it, because the Y is being suburbanized.”

Conners has a meeting scheduled for today with the YMCA to go over the membership numbers.

Alison Coleman, president of the Washington Square Neighborhood Association, stressed the importance of the facility’s location: providing diversity among its members echoing that of the city itself.

The convenience of Washington Avenue, according to Coleman, also allows many members to walk to the Y. If it closes its doors, this would no longer be an option for many members, as the next nearest branch is located in North Albany, over a mile away and separated by I-90.

“I grew up in YMCAs,” said Leif Engstrom, the chief auditor for the city of Albany, “and it became a major part of who I am today.”