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Published: Tuesday, 1/18/2011

Demolition begins at South Toledo YMCA

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Workers on Monday were demolishing the former South Toledo YMCA building that is slated to become city parkland by the spring, and possibly a pay-to-play dog park.

An orange excavator was clawing through the 56-year-old metal and brick structure. The YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo closed the money-losing branch in December, 2009, and plans to transfer the 4.1-acre site to the city of Toledo once the building is torn down.

The $185,000 demolition project is on schedule to finish by mid-February, depending on weather, said Rob Thomas, communications specialist with the YMCA.

City Council voted last year to accept the property and maintain it as another piece of Woodsdale Park. Once ownership transfers, a group called Toledo Unleashed said it will seek permission to transform the parcel into a dog park.

The 2009 decision to close the South Y branch was highly controversial.

YMCA officials said the facility had been losing money and members for years. But neighbors and branch members accused the nonprofit organization of deliberately ignoring declining conditions in the building while paying generous salaries to its corporate executives, particularly former Chief Executive Officer Robert Alexander.

The Y originally sought to give the South Y building and property free of charge to CedarCreek Church, which had plans to spend up to $2 million to turn it into a chapel. But the church abandoned those plans after neighborhood meetings and protests about the branch closure.

Area politicians got involved, and Lucas County commissioners nearly voted that fall on a long-term, citizen-led oversight panel for the YMCA organization before the effort's momentum faded. Eventually, Y officials agreed to a "Save the South Y" campaign with a goal of selling 376 memberships. Only 118 were sold by the December deadline, and the branch closed that month for good.

The Y directed former patrons to the Morse Center Y on the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus, the former Medical College of Ohio, which lacked the full facilities and swimming pool of the closed branch.

Current YMCA President and CEO Todd Tibbits said at the time that the Y hoped to someday open a new large-scale South Y branch, to be similar to the new $8.2 million West Toledo facility next to Start High School that was built in partnership with Toledo Public Schools.

But gathering the money for such a project appears to be the problem.

A new standalone South Y is still the long-term plan, Mr. Thomas said Monday. The Y is "continuing to dialogue" with UT about potential collaboration, he said.

Matt Schroeder, vice president of real estate and business development at the University of Toledo Foundation, confirmed that there has been discussion of a new building, though talks have mostly focused on an expanded partnership through the Morse Center, which the Y manages for UT.

The Margaret L. Hunt Senior Center is also interested in being a partner in any new future Y branch on UT's Health Science Campus, said City Councilman Rob Ludeman, president of the senior center's board.

"Funding is probably the biggest issue for any project now," he said.

As for the old South Y property, Mr. Ludeman said it likely would require a council vote to lease the land to the dog park group once the building is razed. B & P Wrecking Co. of Toledo is the demolition contractor.

Kevin Mullan, who leads Toledo Unleashed, said he envisions a 3 to 3 -acre fenced park where dog owners could allow their pets to run free. Owners would be required to pick up after their dogs and would pay an annual fee of about $60 for park maintenance.

"We don't want that fee to be a deterrent for people, but we think that will help with keeping up the park," said Mr. Mullan.

Mr. Alexander, the former Y chief, took a position in December, 2009, as director of the YMCA's foundation, where he is responsible for growing the organization's endowment.

For the first half of 2010 he kept his former CEO annual base salary of $270,357, which had made him the highest-paid president and CEO of a YMCA system in Ohio, and the highest-paid head of a social service agency in Toledo.

Mr. Alexander retired at the end of June from the full-time position and continued on a part-time basis, receiving a $5,000 monthly stipend, Mr. Tibbits said at the time.

Mr. Alexander still holds the title of director of the YMCA Foundation. But Y officials on Monday refused to disclose Mr. Alexander's current compensation.

"We won't have any further comment on that," Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Alexander could not be reached for comment.

The Y faced accusations of nepotism during Mr. Alexander's final months as CEO in 2009, as the outgoing chief's daughter, wife, and daughter-in-law all held jobs with the organization. Mr. Alexander generated additional controversy that year after he, his wife, and 40 employees and supporters heckled then-state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) as she and South Y members held a news conference in the old branch's parking lot that was critical of YMCA management.

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com, or 419-724-6065.



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