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Economic downturn weighs on local Ys

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  • | 1:26 p.m. May 10, 2011
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Two Gulf Coast YMCAs will merge together in a deal that highlights the precarious future of nonprofit fitness and community centers.

The deal is between the South Sarasota County Y in Venice and the Y in Fort Myers. The South County Y, which also has a branch in Englewood, will be the governing board over its Lee County counterpart. The South County Y will also take over back office paperwork duties for Lee County.

The Fort Myers Y has struggled finically since at least 2007, says Jim Sanger, president of the facility. The South County Y, meanwhile, has prospered in comparison. That Y plans to open a charter school in August and is building a new two-story facility in Venice.

Executives at both Ys say the deal not only saves the Fort Myers Y, but it puts it in a better position to grow, both in additional branches and programs. “We believe we can get there much quicker now,” Sanger tells Coffee Talk.

Still, the move is indicative of how brutal the recession has been on Ys and similar organizations. Indeed, Sanger says national Y officials recommended he seek out a larger partner to merge with at least two years ago. The national Y gave the same survival advice to many other small Ys. Says Sanger: “We had that as a part of our long-range plan, with the way the economy was going.”

Sanger was hired in 2007 to turn around the underperforming Y in Fort Myers. He spent the past two years building the facility into an attractive partner. The Y upgraded equipment and cleared up some past management issues, he says. And in 2011, for the first time in several years, the Fort Myers Y is profitable, with a $1.4 million operating budget, up from $1.27 million last year.

In a statement, South County Y president and CEO Ken Modzelewski says the Fort Myers Y will still be a local Y, even though its parent will be 70 miles north. “Each of our three branches will maintain their own boards and fundraising activities,” says Modzelewski, “so they can focus on meeting local needs.”


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