The neighborhood-led movement to save the South Toledo YMCA from closing gained momentum yesterday with the best-attended rally to date, including support from several officeholders and mayoral candidates.
The rally and news conference outside the South Toledo branch drew an after-work crowd of about 70 people, including state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, and Toledo Republican mayoral candidate Jim Moody.
The group called on leaders of the YMCA and Jewish Community Center of Greater Toledo to reconsider their decision to close the South Toledo branch near the Anthony Wayne Trail on Aug. 29.
The neighbors said that if the YMCA does not backpedal, they re moving forward to force them to do so.
The neighborhood group announced they have retained legal counsel to help stop the closing and planned transfer of the property to CedarCreek Church, as well as to obtain access to the YMCA s financial records.
Public statements throughout the day have now put all five leading Toledo mayoral candidates on the side of the neighborhood group critical of the Y s decision to leave the Woodsdale Park Drive location and give away the property to CedarCreek Church.
The Y is a community organization, Mr. Konop, a Democrat running for mayor, said during the rally in the branch s parking lot. Unfortunately, they re not acting like a community organization.
Robert Alexander, the YMCA s president and chief executive officer, announced late last month that the Y must close the South Toledo branch because of annual budget deficits there of about $200,000 and the sudden loss of at least $1.5 million in state child-care funding.
YMCA officials issued the following statement last night regarding the rally, which was led by south end residents Cooper Suter and Mark Hertzfeld:
We met initially with this group of concerned individuals. It was our first face-to-face meeting and we felt it was productive, and there are plans to meet again. We continue to be interested in constructive dialogue with these individuals and other members of the community to collaborate on the future of the YMCA in South Toledo, the statement read.
The Y s conciliatory efforts have yet to appease those committed to keeping their branch open.
They stirred up a hornet s nest, Ms. Fedor said of the YMCA s decision makers, whom she criticized for not attempting a fund-raising campaign to save the branch.
I m just surprised that the south end of Toledo has been written off by the YMCA s plan. We do have the wealth here to support the current Y and to build new, Ms. Fedor said.
The state senator also accused the YMCA of using the loss of state funding as an excuse to close the building smoke and mirrors to their obvious long-term plan to get rid of the South Y.
She said state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo) also supports keeping the YMCA open but was unable to attend yesterday s event.
Several people at the rally criticized Y leaders for not notifying members of the community that their branch was endangered until well after the decision to close it.
I just feel so strongly that this neighborhood needs this Y, and what they did was so unfair. Secretive and unfair, said resident Elsie Bellner, whose children and grandchildren spent their childhood at the South Toledo branch.
Earlier in the day, mayoral candidate Mike Bell called for Y officials to postpone the planned shutdown of the branch for 90 days to allow more communication with upset neighbors.
Mr. Bell, who is running as a political independent, also urged the YMCA to undertake a management audit to evaluate its hiring of family members of Mr. Alexander.
The Blade reported last week that Mr. Alexander, his wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and stepson are paid more than $630,000 in salary and benefits by the YMCA and hold several executive-level posts in the organization.
YMCA board members have defended hiring the Alexander clan and defended Mr. Alexander s refusal to make public credit-card and travel spending by top Y officials, including spending by Alexander family members and by City Councilman Michael Ashford, vice president of urban affairs for the YMCA.
Democratic candidate for mayor Keith Wilkowski said in a phone interview last night that he supports keeping the Y branch open.
It s an important institution that needs to maintain an operation there until there is a long-term solution, Mr. Wilkowski said.
City Councilman D. Michael Collins, who represents the district containing the Y branch and is running for mayor as an independent, said YMCA leaders have undone years of good relations with the south end community.
I am certainly disappointed, and I would hope that they reconsider that decision to vacate the property, Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Moody in the past has supported keeping the Y open. He did not speak at the rally yesterday.
Mr. Konop and others at the rally said their discontent lies solely with the YMCA and its leaders and not CedarCreek Church.
I don t want to make this an anti-CedarCreek issue, Mr. Konop said.
There s a place for CedarCreek in this community. We want to welcome them with open arms just not here, he said.
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