Y Moves Closer To Mahackeno

The fat lady may not have sung — yet.

But her spotlight is on.  She’s warming up her vocal cords.  And she’s ready to step onstage.

A Stamford Superior Court decision seems to have removed the last major impediment to the Westport Weston Family Y‘s move from downtown to its 32-acre Camp Mahackeno property.

On Thursday, Judge A. William Mottolese rejected an appeal filed by Y Downtown, a grassroots organization hoping (duh) to keep the Y downtown.  The sigh of relief heard in the 87-year-old Tudor building on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street could be heard — well, all the way up Wilton Road, to Mahackeno’s hills, dales and river.

The Westport Y in downtown Westport -- until 2014, it now seems.

Yesterday, Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves reflected on what the decision means.

“We didn’t have to wait for this decision to move forward with our plans, but because I was new to the job 2 years ago, and there was so much uncertainty (about the court case), we decided to wait,” he said.

“Now that the judge has spoken, we’re going to refocus our efforts.  We’re going to talk to the community and the media.  We’ve been quiet for a while.  Now we look forward to reminding people of what we do, how we connect to the community, and how we’ll make this the best move it can be.”

Y Downtown has 20 days to request an appeal before the Connecticut Appellate Court.  There is no certainty that request would be accepted.

Y Downtown has not announced whether it will appeal.  As of yesterday afternoon, its website did not have news of Thursday’s court decision.

Though a major impediment to the Y’s move has been cleared, another obstacle remain$.

A capital campaign will be announced sometime this year.  Y officials have not yet re-priced the Mahackeno building, but the fundraising environment is clearly different than when planning began in 2002 — nearly 10 years ago.

Reeves — who combines FDR-like optimism with a healthy dose of pragmatism (he came to Westport from Maine) — sees an upside in the economic downturn.

“If we’d started a capital campaign 4 years ago and then ran into the recession, people might not have been able to make good on their pledges,” he said.

“Now, people might contribute less.  But they’ll be more realistic about what they say they can give.

“We have to go beyond the typical big donors,” he added.  “They can’t carry this.  Whatever we do has to be much broader based.”

Nationally, Reeves noted, non-profits are initiating fundraising campaigns — and money is coming in.

He said that the Y will soon reassess “what we can realistically build.  We won’t commit to a building we can’t afford.”

An artist's rendering of the Westport Y at Camp Mahackeno.

So — as the fat lady prepares to walk on stage — Reeves is readying the Westport Y for its own next steps.

“We have to position ourselves as an asset to the community,” he emphasized.  “We have to explain why this took so long, and what we plan to do.

“If this community wants the Y to be an integral part of Westport — and that’s what we hear, over and over — we have to make sure people understand that we have to move.

“We have an agreement to be out of the (downtown) building by the end of 2014.  We can’t change that.”

Though he supports keeping the Y where it is, Matt Mandell is not a Y Downtown leader.  He’s chair of the RTM’s Planning and Zoning Committee — and an astute observer of the way the political winds blow.

In an e-mail to like-minded Westporters after the judge’s decision, he seemed to acknowledge that the fight was over.

He said that Y Downtown “put up a great fight.”

The Y folks too, he said, “fought well.”  He congratulated his foes, and acknowledged that over the past few years there were “some tough moments and at times bad blood.”

But in the end, Mandell said, “we are all one community and continue to live among each other.  While I might not like the new location, I’m sure it will be a great place to use.  One thing Y folks, please do right by your neighbors, you owe at least that much to them.”

Reeves agrees with his former foe.

“We’re hopeful we can put everything that’s gone on behind us,” the CEO said.  “We want to be a good neighbor, even for those people who might have been uncertain about us.”

The fat lady couldn’t have sung said it better herself.

38 responses to “Y Moves Closer To Mahackeno

  1. The Y belongs downtown, and it could have worked on a deal to build on the numerous ugly parking lots next door. It would probably be in its new facility by now if it had chosen to do so. And, it would spare the Merritt the extra traffic it does not need.

    That being said, I for one look forward to apartments and more people actually living in the existing Y facility. I hope the developers continue with their plans to make the area a mixed use area so that we can actually have a real and vital downtown that no longer exists. Downtown is a shopping mall now and mostly for non-westporters– we (again) need a real downtown with real people, real restaurants and real stores.

  2. The Dude Abides

    I am also disappointed that the YMCA will be moving. For 57 years I have enjoyed its location. I am not sure I will trek up to the Merritt to take a quick swim or steam. I am surprised that after all this time that they don’t have construction plans in order and money in place. Perhaps 24 Hour Fitness will come to town and give them some well deserved competition.

  3. Richard Lawrence Stein

    How the Y picked Mahackeno for its new location is beyond reason. Not only is it totally on one side of town, it is poorly accessible. Mostly though it is now going to be even more of a traffic nightmare in the exit 41 area. The back up of traffic from the Red Barn and from Fort Apachee is already a bit taxing at different times of day and tear now it will

  4. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Opps… Cont. …. Now it will even be more vexing and aggravating… Can’t wait for the accidents to start happening or the other traffic issues you are forcing down the throats of the people in that area….

  5. Traffic is going to cham. More drivers with hand held cells running through red lights on Wilton Road !!! Fiasco !

  6. I lived on Sunny lane for 5 or 6 years late ’90s early ’00s. The traffic jam for morning drop off and afternoon pickup for the summer campers was a daily nuisance. Minivans lined up all the way down the street, blocking driveways, and spilling onto the Merrit Parkway on-ramp. I can’t imagine the tie up a huge full-time facility will cause. But beyond the traffic, I can’t understand how anyone that cares about Westport could walk the Mahackeno property and say “yeah, this is a great place for a huge YMCA complex”. I’ve been following this story for years and I have never heard a convincing argument for building on this beautiful wooded, riverside site. It makes no sense for so many reasons. And just because the Y may have the right to build on their property, it does not make it right.

  7. It doesn’t matter where the new Y was built, there would be carping and whining. This is Westport afterall.

  8. Mandell makes it sound like the “fight” was between Y Downtown and the
    Westport Y. Not so. Y Downtown — the plaintiff — sued the Town of Westport — the defendant — and defending the town did not come free; There was a high –and still not known — cost to the taxpayers. Hopefully that cost as been capped, but if the plaintiff appeals the decision, the cost to us will continue to rise.

  9. Westporters in leadership position who have support removing the Y from Downtown should hang their heads in shame. Moving the Y out of downtown is a disgraceful and backward decision. Not only does it remove a vital vessel of vitality to the life of the “village” it disregards the reality that in a time of post-peak oil the notion of promoting a location that forcs people to drive instead of walk is outrageous. Shame on Westport …

    • Oil is cheap. It’s real price has declined over the last 30 years. Don’t most people drive to reach downtown Westport? What percentage of the population walks to downtown?

  10. The Dude Abides

    Well I would imagine the plaintiff has incurred legal fees as well. That is how the litigation game is played. I am not sure why the dog park at the corner of South Compo and the Post Road could not find room for a YMCA and every dog in Fairfield County????

  11. Wendy Crowther

    These arguments for the Y staying downtown have all been vented over and over. Every town commission and every town committee has approved this move (some approved with conditions that the Y will have to meet). Additionally, several courts have now upheld these approvals and rejected appeals.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I was the Y’s Health and Fitness Director back in the 1980s (I worked at the Y for 13+ years and loved it). However, I am no longer associated with the Y as a member nor as staff, though I remain hugely fond of the Y.

    My point is this: The Y is a fantastic organization, and it is an enormous asset to this town. However, the Y can no longer provide excellent service to this community while constrained by the buildings, or more accurately, the mash-up of buildings, it has occupied over the last 85 years. Twenty years ago, when I was still working there, the Y was already feeling the limitations of its physical plant. Talk was already underway about the need to build elsewhere.

    Back then, the Y was tops in town for so many of its programs. The firehouse had been newly-converted into the town’s best fitness center, and the pool was located in what we then called “the new building.” That new building is now about 35 years old.

    Standards for many programs and recreational spaces have changed since then, and the Y’s buildings constrain the Y’s ability to meet those standards (by standards, I don’t mean safety, I mean things like size, aesthetics, ceiling height, lighting, handicap access, etc). Private sector competition, (which hardly existed in the 1980s), can provide these standards in their snazzy new spaces. The Y struggles to satisfy Westporters who, we all know, expect the best.

    The Y, despite it’s huge heart and a devoted membership core, has known for a long time that it has to sink or swim. It has worked on this idea for twenty years, and Mahackeno is where it has taken them. There’s no undoing the dynamics of their situation if they stay where they are. There’s Mahakeno, or there’s no Y at all.

    Having known the Y intimately for the 13 years I worked there on staff, and the few years that followed when I worked there as an independent contractor teaching squash, I believe wholeheartedly that we can all trust the Y to do the right thing at Mahackeno. Their mission is to do good things for our community. They are not a selfish, profit-hungry, step-on-you-to-get-what-they-want sort of organization. In this dog-eat-dog world, it’s easy to be suspicious of big companies and big organizations. The Y is not that kind of place. We need a good guy like the Y in our community.

    It’s time to support the Y, and it’s time to help them make their move. Ten years from now, I know we’ll all look back and say, “Wow, can you believe that so many people were unsure about building the new Y here – this is the best thing in town, right up there next to Longshore, Compo Beach and the library.”

    The distance difference between the Y’s current location and its Mahackeno location is minimal. And, it will be an amazing “campus” to hang out at as you wait for your kid to finish his swim lesson. Yeah, it’s sad to think of the venerable old Y moving out of its venerable old building – I’m fond of both. But, I’m looking forward to the Y’s future at Mahackeno – so much so that I suspect I’ll even join again.

  12. Eric Buchroeder

    Well, it doesn’t sound like anybody’s very happy about the Y moving to Mahackeno. But, I wonder what choice they had, from where I’m sitting in Ohio, it looks like the community forced them out of downtown and is now lamenting that they have left.

    The Y once offered the community, particularly its youth, a total year round experience (what it’s triangle symbol expresses: “developing the whole person, Spirit, Mind and Body”) that no other organization provided. It was unique.

    But over the years it is plain to see that the Y found itself in competition with the town for recreational services and as the town became more affluent and more cosmopolitan, the Y became less relevant to its original mission of developing the whole person year round. For years the Y was the only indoor pool within Westport and as a result was heavily involved in Staples swimming, contributing both location and coaching assistance. I wonder how many people remember in the late 50’s when a local Christian clergyman forbade his parishioners to participate in the Y because he viewed it as a Protestant oriented organization. I remember because my friends, Y leaders and camp counselors who attended this church were pulled out of the Y programs as a result. The clergyman totally missed the point of the YMCA, but at least he was ahead of his time.

    I am proud to be a product of the YMCA in Westport. As a fatherless boy, it provided year round activities, friendship and grounding that no other organization offered and which helped me become what I am today; happy and successful as a father.

    But unfortunately for later generations, the Y allowed itself to be marginalized and reduced to an anachronism and although it is betting that it will rediscover its identity at Mahackeno, without the town’s support that is not likely to happen. The Y needs to remain in the center of Westport and the center of Westport is still downtown at Main and State.

    I’m sorry for Westport and for the Y that it is in this position at this time.

  13. Like Eric, my former Saugatuck next door neighbor in the 1950s, I’ ve been gone from Westport for decades and realize that much has changed since my departure, as it ought to. Downtown has long since ceased to be the center of the Westport universe and legions of kids from Saugatuck and Bedford El and BJHS no longer stream to the Y on foot or on bikes after school or on weekends. Nor do they hang out along Main Street. Time moves on. Tastes and incomes evolve. Wendy has stated the case for Y’s move with clarity and urgency, as have others. And Anonymous is correct about drivetime to the new site and the fact that kids no longer walk downtown. At least, at the new site, the Y will remain in the community, and that is a very good thing for Westport.

  14. This is a question for 06880 readers who lived in Westport during the 1950s. Was there a lot of opposition to the relocation of Staples to North Avenue from its more centrally located site (at the time) on Riverside? I’m just curious, thanks.

    • Longtime Westporter

      I was in the first class that moved to the North Avenue location and spent three years there. I was young, granted, in 1958 but I don’t remember any opposition to the new high school at all. Now … after a few years of students carrying their coats most of the year because the “California campus design” meant we had to go outside between every class, then there was opposition and the buildings were connected.

  15. Eric Buchroeder

    Yes indeed there was a debate. I was very young at the time but as I recall it was quite analogous to the current debate over the relocation of the Y. There was a faction in town that believed that Staples belonged where it had always been near the center of town and another faction that believed that part of its educational mission was to “prepare for life” (hard to argue with that) and that students would, after Staples, be functioning in a larger environment, first in a college campus, and later in the “campus of life”. Therefore the relocation of Staples was seen (at that time, anyway) as a step in moving the high school experience closer to the real world and out of the cocoon. This included the multiple classroom building experience and a desire to mimic the design of high schools in California during a time when the California lifestyle had captured the national consciousness. I remember my mother saying how silly this was and how they would regret it after the first winter. What I also remember, quite clearly, was a debate over what kind and how much of a physical plant the town could afford at North Avenue. As you may recall, the old gymnasium building (1957) on North Avenue had a basement. In my day it was where we held wrestling practice plus the weight room and locker rooms. Originally, it was intended by the architects to be the school’s natatorium but the obvious necessity of a swimming pool for Staples was negated by the fiscal conservatism of 1957 and it was not until 1978 that Staples finally received a swimming pool. Again, I remember my mother coming home from a Board of Ed meeting and saying in frustration: “They decided they would build the pool later, how the hell are they going to build it later when its in the basement, they have to build it now or it’ll cost ten times as much and they’ll never get it built?” During that period the YMCA downtown filled the gap.

    I acknowledge the point made by my old friend and neighbor Tommy Allen about times having changed and I’m not trying to deny or limit change (its too late for that). The question that begs asking is in the case of defining Westport’s center and essential character is: Is this change for the better or not? We had (and always have) an opportunity to attempt to direct the path of change and my point was that in a micro sense this may make sense but perhaps not in a macro sense. The YMCA was once involved in more things in Westport and at more levels than providing a convenient place to work out and stay in shape. If that’s what they see as their function, as opposed to their tradition of helping develop humankind in three dimensions, then it is probably not going to matter much whether they stay downtown or move to Mahackeno they are not as essential as they once were.

    • This is a great, and important comment. Does anyone at the Y want to chime in with a “mission” statement (in non-mission-statement-like words)?

  16. When I lived in Westport as a kid in the 60’s, I probably would not have used the Y much at all if it was at Mahackeno. But then again, I don’t remember they offered some things as they do today such as Ballet Workout ; Bosu, Bars & Balls; or Zumba.

  17. Eric Buchroeder

    Point well taken….in the 50’s and 60’s Mahackeno was considered the edge of the frontier in Westport (probably why they built a camp out there).

    People in Westport tend to forget how much of what is taken for granted as public property (Staples HS, Bedford JHS, Bedford El, The YMCA building) were gifts of wealthy people who today would be called fat cats. So maybe the fact that the Y building downtown is being sold to private developers is a logical progression.

    I hope they’ve gotten the poison ivy at Mahackeno under control since 1962. I’d hate to try to scratch through spandex. Never once got poison ivy by hanging around Main Street.

  18. Eric Buchroeder

    It’s been my observation that the Y on a national basis, is going through something of an identity crisis these days. They have just “rebranded” themselves (God, what a double entendre that is!!!!) from the YMCA to simply “The Y”. I wonder Y they’re trying to do that!!!! 😉

    I have a classmate from Springfield College (formerly known as the International YMCA Training School) who is very senior on on the Y’s national leadership team. When he announced on FB the rebranding of the YMCA as “The Y” I countered with the suggestion that instead they adopt “Y Me? or Y U” No response…..

    In my opinion, the YMCA has lost much intrinsic and extrinsic value by allowing itself to be repositioned from a global social services and human development organization to a non profit Gold’s Gym.

    It is telling that the majority of the people weighing in on this discussion are more concerned about the NIMBY aspects of the Y relocation to Mahackeno and the convenience of making their daily workout prior to hitting the 7:45 to Grand Central then they are about truly bettering the condition of humankind both within and without Westport which obviously starts (and ends) with the young.

  19. As a member of the Y for 25 years, I am looking forward to the new Y. Sure it might take me 3 more minutes to get there and then from there to the train in the AM. But I’m looking forward to a new facility where you don’t have to walk around buckets catching water dripping from the ceiling to get to the locker room and where the showers have handles and where there’s enough space to accomodate all of the wonderful programs offered by the Y. The downtown building is nostalgic and charming, but from what I’ve seen the new building will be far superior. As far as local traffic, I thought they are building a drive off of the Merritt to handle much of the traffic. Also hopefully more people from Weston, Easton and other commuters on the Merritt will join to increase the membership and keep the Y on sound financial grounds. Hopefully all those who are complaining will join up and find that the new Y is a great community resource.

  20. I fully expect Westport will be without a Y for a few years as the money to build the new one will be difficult to find, construction will be slow and complicated and the buyers of the downtown property will not wait forever to develop the site. I also expect that period of time will put this discussion to rest as we will be far better off having a Y, regardless of location, than not.

  21. Richard Lawrence Stein

    I don’t disagree that a new Y is very much needed….I have been a member since I was 5 years old….I now get to take my 2 yeard old daughter in the very same pool i learned how to swim in…. that is 38 years ago…. but the place for it is not at the edge of Westport/Norwalk/Wilton/Weston lines… where it is going to cause great proplems for all those who live in the area of exit 41…. and just as an FYI… the Greenwich Y…yes the fat cat major hedge fund laden Greenwich, GREENWICH Y is in major fiscal hardship….. they built all sorts of new facilities and are now possibly going to be shut down… they can’t make their payments…. it has been all over the Stamford/Greenwich papers….. so I hope the money is in the till before trying to figure out how to pay for all this

  22. The Dude Abides

    I would be curious to know if the YMCA actually makes money? Or is it at the mercy of contributions from charitable organizations?

  23. Eric Buchroeder

    Retrieved from the YMCA website:
    The World Alliance of YMCAs was founded in 1855 at its first World Conference, held in Paris. At that time, conference participants developed the YMCA’s first mission statement, the Paris Basis.
    Since then, the YMCA’s mission statement has been interpreted to reflect contemporary realities, first in 1973 with the Kampala Principles, and most recently in 1998 with Challenge 21.
    Challenge 21, adopted at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, Frechen, Germany, 1998 states that:
    “Affirming the Paris Basis adopted in 1855 as the ongoing foundation statement of the mission of the YMCA, at the threshold of the third millennium we declare that the YMCA is a world-wide Christian, ecumenical, voluntary movement for women and men with special emphasis on and the genuine involvement of young people and that it seeks to share the Christian ideal of building a human community of justice with love, peace and reconciliation for the fullness of life for all creation.”

    Nothing in the above about overcoming sprawl or traffic congestion off the Merritt.

  24. Eric Buchroeder

    As far as I know the Y has always been a non-profit, tax exempt entity.
    Also believe in most areas it’s involved with the United Way and other fund-raising organizations which does not preclude it from fund-raising on its own behalf.

    • The Dude Abides

      Thanks. I am aware of it organizational makeup but was more interested in whether membership fees/program costs actually meet their operating budget or what portion thereof?

  25. Sven Davidson

    Having watch the Mahackeno-Downtown imbroglio for years (literally), I’ve often wondered if the arguments wouldn’t be exactly the same if the Y was originally built at Mahackeno and wanted to move to the intersection of Main St. and the Post Road: congestion; parking; inconvenience; etc.

  26. Gwen DwyerLechnar

    When my husband and I moved into our latest dwelling here in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, one of the furnishings/”adornos” in the house was a 1925 bound compendium of House and Garden magazine. One day he was bored and leafing through it when he asked if I recognized a building pictured therein. Right away I saw it was “The Westport Y”. Only, reading the caption I found that it was called the Community Center in those days apparently and the Y was only one organization there. Who owns the building now?
    By the way, to Y Not: It wasn’t exactly Y-sponsored, but I took ballet there from my teacher, Miss Claire Deerfield, in the 60’s.

  27. The Dude Abides

    Well aren’t we chic. Let me tell you about my quonset hut in Rhode Island someday. The YMCA is owned by a developer. The YMCA of the ’60’s was a hub for kids to play various sports in the afternoon and many activties, including a Friday night dance, at night. That boat has sailed. Kids are structured with many other activities now that I am sure the YMCA could not keep up or compete. Plus, the facilities are basically limited to the exercise portion of the establishment which is an architectual nightmare. I am sad to see its transformation. It was a fun place to hang out in the 60’s.

  28. Eric Buchroeder

    Nicely done. Your finely honed rapier like wit and nostalgia for better days is rivaled only by mine. Keep bearing the torch, its glow will light a beacon long after you have passed on.

  29. Gwen DwyerLechnar

    Oh, yes, I remember those dances—TRES chic! Maybe you could revive them in your quonset hut in Rhode Island. Thanks for (sort of) answering my question—ask a silly, I guess…

  30. I really felt that if the commission did not decide prior to the application they would have approached the Y in a different way….Weisman appeared to try to turn the tables on Blocks bias claim. asked Kupinse….There was a tendency on her part to make long statements said Corwin adding that Block took the opportunity to share her opinion on the matter rather than ask questions….Corwin continued that his job as chairman was to ensure that the meetings moved forward noting that more than 100 people had the opportunity to speak and ask questions….What I was doing was consistent with what a chairman would do that time is not an infinite resource and that we have to move things along said Corwin…The case is scheduled to continue Tuesday at 9 30 a.m. Notify me of follow-up comments?..Submit the word you see below ……Please note by clicking on Submit you acknowledge that you have read the and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms.

  31. I am surprised that after all this time that they don’t have building plans in order and cash in position. Thanks 🙂
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  32. Sometimes… change is inevitable.

  33. I also believe in most areas it’s involved with the United Way and other fund-raising organizations which does not preclude it from fund-raising on its own behalf
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  34. The new location does look better and bigger.