YMCA Moves One Step Closer To Mahackeno

Two months ago, the Westport Weston Family Y announced some stark news. It was $6.2 million short in its fundraising campaign. Unless it raised sufficient funds by mid-May, the Y said, it would not proceed with plans for Phase I — the scaled-down version — of its new facility at Mahackeno.

Yesterday, the board of directors and board of trustees voted unanimously to forge ahead with their new home. Over the past 8 weeks, board of directors president Bonnie Strittmatter said, they’ve received “more than $4.4 million in contributions.”

That funding, she said, “has given the Boards the confidence to release funds that will keep our building project on track to break ground in the fall.”

The boards, she added, “are optimistic that the progress we’ve made with fundraising will continue until we reach our goal of fully funding the first phase of our building project by the time construction starts.”

The Y has now raised more than $10.6 million toward its building project.

The YMCA also announced an intention to complete the sale of its downtown building.

In all, today’s press release said, the Y “has identified $34.1 million in funding, including proceeds from the agreed-upon sale of its current home.” It is estimated Phase I will cost $37.5 million, leaving a funding gap of $3.4 million.

Construction is scheduled to begin this fall, with a target date for opening of November 2014.

In other news, the Family Y trustees voted to issue a “Written Notice of Intent to Close” on the previously agreed-upon sale of the Y’s current facility at 59 Post Road East to Bedford Square Associates.

23 responses to “YMCA Moves One Step Closer To Mahackeno

  1. Booooo.

  2. Grateful to the Y

    Great news! We support this tremendous community asset for so many reasons and are ready to help the Y move forward.

    Why does my family support the Westport Y?

    • for all the children who will need to learn to swim in our beach town… this Y is exceptional.
    • for all the parents, who can bring their children to enriching Y programs and work out at the same time.
    • for all of the children that take their first special interest classes at the Y, such dance, swimming, art, tennis, fencing, etc.
    • for all the seniors and parents who utilize the Ys health and wellness programs.
    • for those suffering hardships and who need financial assistance to provide healthy programs for themselves and their families.
    • for the nationally-ranked athletes, gymnasts, and swimmers who set healthy examples and inspire others.
    • for the children and parents who rely on the daycare.
    • for the environmentalists who believe the Y is a cleaner and more convivial option than driving to other towns for our families’ athletic endeavors.
    • for the local retailers who benefit from residents using local resources and shopping closer to home.
    • for the local real estate market – the Y is a relied-upon community asset, and provides familiar services for many newcomers.
    • for those left in the dark after weather emergencies, who have been welcomed by the Y (quite often in these past few years).
    • Last but definitely not least… for the amazing, caring staff who step forward to help each and every member. All I can say is, to see it is to believe it. Some staff members have even saved lives (Dan Woog’s post August 15, 2011).

    Visit the Y. See for yourself. It took me a while – but I am so glad I did.

  3. Remember when the Y leaders and their agents repeatedly swore up and down to the P&Z Commission that the Exit 41 rebuild would be entirely at their own expense and would not cost the taxpayer a penny? Well, leave it to the Westport YMCA to bait and switch on this issue. This from the Westport News article today:

    To reduce project costs, Y officials are considering applying to the State Bond Commission for state bonds to finance the mandatory reconfiguration of the northbound side of Exit 41 on the Merritt Parkway. The project will include the construction of a new lane on the exit’s off-ramp, expanding the connector road between the exit ramp and Wilton Road from two to four lanes and installing a new traffic light at the meeting point of the connector road, the exit ramp and the entry road to the Mahackeno campus. The construction work on the exit will cost about $2.9 million, according to Reeves. That outlay is factored into the $37.5 million Mahackeno project total and would be entirely financed by the Y, unless the State Bond Commission were to approve state funds for the exit redevelopment.

    Despite the spin, the Y is probably already lobbying the State Bond Commission and/or preparing their special request for $3M of taxpayer money to help pay for their folly. For them to even consider applying for state funding is an outrage after all their promises. What happened to the honesty and responsibility parts of their brand?

    If you don’t want $3M of YOUR taxpayer dollars used to rebuild Exit 41 for the YMCA, I suggest you write letters to Governor Malloy and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes to tell them NO! With the state budget in shambles and our taxes going up, don’t let the Y get away with renegging on their promise to every person in Westport that they will pay for the Exit 41 rebuild themselves!

    • I did not want $10 million of my taxpayer dollars spent on a dog toilet in Westport.

    • David J. Loffredo

      I don’t want my $10M piece of property to be used for Gordon’s Geezer Grotto but apparently I’m going to lose that one.

  4. The Honorable Dannel P. Malloy
    Governor of Connecticut
    State Capitol
    210 Capitol Avenue
    Hartford, CT 06106

    Mr. Benjamin Barnes
    Secretary
    Office of Policy and Management
    450 Capitol Avenue
    Hartford, CT 06106-1379

  5. Amy – Thanks for the addresses to send my letter of support for this project. I’d encourage everyone else that would like a Y in Westport to support this worthy cause.

    Frankly, even if I were indifferent about the project, I’d certainly rather have my tax dollars coming to support something in Westport for once – it’s not like we’ll see the money in reduced taxes anyway.

    Why all the hate?

  6. Time to move on?

    Amy,

    I was hoping that the Y would fall short of its current fundraising goal, fire the Board, and seek alternatives to Mahackeno that I would fully support.

    However, that didn’t exactly happen, and if the Y is going to start using all of its capital to build the new Y at Mahackeno, I’d rather not see it fail. So if the state contributing tax dollars to this project will help to increase the chances of a successful Y, then I’m for it.

    If you think blocking the application will increase the chances of getting the Y to not break ground and move to another location, I’m all ears. But, if you are just trying to do this out of spite, please reconsider.

  7. test

  8. I am new to town and lack all the history behind the Y and its move and its promises to the people of Westport. I understand the passion and concern, especially to those who live nearby and will see some disruption to their daily lives.

    However, as a newbie, I feel strongly that a Y or some other community center is a must in a town like Westport. It not only provides critical services to citizens, it enrichs the lives of the townspeople and creates a sense of community that the beach or Playhouse cannot.

    I, for one, am amazed that the Y was able to raise that much money privately and as a taxpayer, I would most certainly support a bond to help make it happen. And lets keep in mind, this is not a grant from the state or a tax windfall – its a loan, that will be paid back. So to me, it is a wonderful use of taxpayer dollars and should not increase the deficit.

    • A Fan of the Library

      Alps — Welcome to Westport. If you want to visit a community center in Westport that provides critical services, enriches the lives of townspeople, and creates a sense of community, spend some time at the Westport Library !

  9. Grateful – You make some good points about Ys in general, but in your zeal to make this Y look perfect, which it certainly is not, you actually offer reasons for it to remain downtown, Environment and Retail. There is nothing environmentally friendly about clear cutting open space or black topping numerous houses for parking. It’s a disgrace. And as for retailers benefiting, no, downtown Westport will lose all those moms and dads who would drop off their kids and shop. Instead they will drive elsewhere, further polluting and creating traffic. The central sense of community will be lost. And on gymnastics, why was the head of the program removed last week?

    As for Ms. Ancel – I think she is just tired of duplicity. Nothing is what it seems when it comes to the Y. While a few have bought the “we’re going out of business, so give us money” plea, most have not. The Y was never going to stop moving forward, they are still 3.4M short of the smaller Y and yet say they are moving. Their numbers are all over the place.

    ALPS – A bond is not a loan, it’s tax payer money that the grantee does not pay back.

  10. My beef with the Y seeking state funding isn’t about spite or hatred or anything else. It’s about fundamental integrity.

    We teach our children that a promise is a promise, the commitments we make must be honored and that our word is our bond. We don’t teach our children that it’s acceptable to make a promise just to get what we want and then break it once we get our way.

    That’s exactly what the Y will be doing if they seek taxpayer money and state funding for Mahackeno. The Planning & Zoning Commission heavily weighed their promise to not use any taxpayer money for the Exit 41 rebuild when they granted their special permit. The Y promised the people of Westport and the state, and now they have no problem with breaking that promise so that they can, again, get what they want.

    If the Y can’t raise the $3M on their own for the Exit 41 rebuild, then they should either not go forward with construction or should seek additional private lender financing. This project was an over-reach of their own making, and they should not look to Connecticut taxpayers for a bailout.

    The Y’s brand professes social responsibility and honesty, but their leadership is not exactly a shining example of those values when they manipulate the system, go back on their word and double cross the people they supposedly serve.

    • Oh please, who values integrity? Certainly not those who voted for a senatorial candidate who was a demonstrated liar. Spare me the sanctimony.

    • David J. Loffredo

      Do you really care about CT Taxpayers? Really? Fairfield County is a net contributor to the tax bucket that Hartford distributes and mostly wastes all over the State – I’m thrilled that some of it will actually come back to Westport and 100% support the Y as they try to get every penny they can out of Malloy.

  11. So the Merritt access road gets 4 lanes? I guess that will be a great relief after being stuck in traffic on 2-lane Wilton Road or the always constipated parkway. I can feel the wind in my hair now.

  12. Hooray! Can’t wait for the new Y! I still have one left who needs to learn to swim….. While I did not have big bucks to contribute, I certainly thank those who stepped up to the plate.

  13. Aren’t any of you folks nervous that the Y in moving forward without all the money and starts construction and not have the funds to finish? I sure am. The board has shown terrible fiscal authority, terrible. Even down 3Mil they say things are fine. How much of the money raised is pledges that may never be captured. Contractors don’t get paid pledges. How horrible to have that land stripped and then nothing or have a half built thing that just sits. Will you then say throw tax money to bail them out.
    I don’t know, but I don’t trust the situation. Can they really be allowed to start with pledges and not cold cash? Does anyone know if there is a completion bond or something to prevent this…. uhhhh Y-ite Elephant.

  14. Y not make it Better

    Let’s be reasonable folks. The Y made a determination many many years ago that in order to properly serve needs of the community it had to upgrade its facilities at a cost in excess of $10,000,000 and shut down for an extended period to accomplish it. Other avenues were examined and the concept of building a new Y with the funds from the existing Y sale became the clear choice. Numerous sites were examined in Westport, Weston and even the Norden site in Norwalk.
    The desire, however, was to keep the Y presence in Westport and the existing first select-person, Dianne Farrell, encouraged the Y to make a proposal to build the facility on the Baron South property. The Y then spent thousands of dollars preparing pro-forma plans and displays as to how and where the Y would be located on the property in an unobtrusive way and incorporate a Senior Center for the Town. Unfortunately Dianne changed her mind at the end stating that she did not agree with the town partnering with a ‘private’ organization on town property. (Isn’t this what Gordon is about to do on the same property?)
    After an exhaustive and time consuming search the conclusion was that the only possible location in Westport for the new Y was the existing Y property at Mahackeno. This resulted in an extended zoning process and court appeals spanning years and costing millions of dollars. Money that would have been well spent on the new building.
    The Y is about to turn its $20,000,000 downtown property into a revenue generating asset on the tax roles and is locating itself in a property that is already tax exempt, so it is a substantial benefit to the town budget. Asking the state for a contribution for exit 41 improvement is not inappropriate in any way.
    The town should also be asking the Y to put in a sewer line under Lee’s Pond to maintain the ecology of the site rather than requiring an extensive self contained septic system that was necessary for zoning approval.
    Let’s stop being nay-Sayers. The Y will be built and it will be at Mahackeno, make a contribution now so that you can be a part of making it a better Y for the towns of Westport/Weston.

  15. I will not be joining the new Y at Mahackeno after a 30 year membership. A couple of days ago I was walking down the stairs from the Men’s Health Center and a man exited the general men’s locker room, mumbling to himself in a very aggressive and provocative manner. It was startling, to say the least, and I wondered if he was actually a member or someone who bought a day pass. To my shock, another member told me he was from the homeless shelter, was a member with financial aid, and was removed one time from preaching on top of a chair in the lounge in front of the swimming pool.

    Great. The new Y will have no private lockers and everyone will be in a smaller general locker room so that anyone, thieves and unstable people included, can enter; and there is no guarantee of protection according to Rob Reeves in at least one email to me. No protection from creeps or thieves. I’m an adult. I can take care of myself, I think. (I haven’t tested myself against unstable people who don’t know I can protect myself.) What about the children? Who is going to protect them from these people who can walk in and out? This is disturbing to put it mildly.

    Rob Reeves says there cannot be a private locker room for tax purposes. In other words, the Y could lose its tax exempt status if there were private locker rooms, as we have now, as the Norwalk Y has, and as there are in many other Y’s across the country. Not true. The Y could possibly lose tax exempt status for just that locker room. You only have to do a search online to come up with a lengthy document that explores the whole issue: “Real or Rogue Charity? Private Health Clubs vs. the YMCA, 1970-2010”. Yet, Rob and the Board completely neglect this issue of safety and ignore the men and women in the health centers with private lockers.

    So, seeing someone walking through the halls talking to himself (“It’s a dead zone, man. It’s a dead zone!”) is enough for me. The Y can put in private lockers or lose many, many members, as it continues to alienate many people, as evidenced by the lack of fund that have been donated and the decreasing membership (out of 475 lockers in the MHC, there are fewer than 25% occupied because of the administrations attitude and lack of care for those members). But the new Y will have an enormous swimming pool that they can’t build in a Y half the size of what was planned, without gymnastics, racquet ball or squash, but will charge more than double the price of any other health and fitness facility in the area. Quite a business model.

    • Y not make it better

      There will be a locker room for boys and a locker for girls, in addition to the two adult locker rooms and also a ‘family locker room’.
      Y not make it a better facility by adding your contribution.

  16. It would be better to take the situation described in the post seriously than to ask for money.