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Albany Y on Life Support

At the 11th hour, the mayor steps in to keep Washington Avenue facility open at least another month

by Elizabeth Knapp on March 24, 2010

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings joined J. David Brown, president and CEO of Capital District YMCA, at the Washington Avenue branch Wednesday to announce the city’s reclamation of the building in an attempt to keep it open, after months of fruitless efforts by community members.

Just two weeks prior to Jennings’ announcement, Brown sent a letter to YMCA members making it known that the branch would, in fact, be closing.

Recognizing the community’s need for such a facility and responding to their cry for help, Jennings met with Brown and a member of the Y board, expressing his decision to extend the facility’s closure until May 1, which will give him time, he said, to organize a group that is capable of evaluating the building and identifying what steps need to be taken—including the potential addition of new programs—in order to keep it open.

Jennings said he will become “very, very involved” over the next five weeks, bringing in officials from not only the city, but the county and the state, making assessments of the physical plan of the facility and how much it will cost the Y to remain open.

Chris Mercogliano, one of the leaders of the community task force to save the Y, remains skeptical.

“Everything that was said was so vague,” he said. “It’s certainly good news that there’s a commitment to keep this facility alive, but my question is, what will happen to the precious community that existed? It doesn’t sound like anyone knows.”

The dwindling membership and the facility’s financial losses became generally known to the community only after it seemed it was too late. The task force responded immediately, holding phone-a-thons, donations and rallies to attract new members and raise awareness and were unconvinced when told their endeavors were futile. Mercogliano said that he believes that those problems could have been solved, perhaps, without the intervention of the city, but under a trusted and committed leadership.

“It became very apparent that the Capital District YMCA had given up on those problems,” he said. “I think it’s good that the responsibility, the stewardship is going somewhere else, clearly that needed to happen, the CDYMCA was done, they didn’t want this place to exist anymore.” Mercogliano hopes to have more input under the city’s administration.

Brown claimed that he and his board members had always intended to keep the facility open. “And we still do,” he said, “which is why we’re willing to take a second look, and we’re willing to extend it another month.”

He continued to say that the membership revenue is at the same level it was a year ago, deterring the board from moving forward.

“When you have a facility this large, and don’t take advantage of it, shame on us,” said Jennings, “shame on us for not doing what’s right. In my mind, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we don’t work together.”