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Closing of the Downtown YMCA Not Welcomed

On the very morning that we were getting ready to set down our thoughts about the impending closure of the large YMCA building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, the news was being reported by the Washington Post, although Y members had been hearing rumors about this for some time before now. The building, assessed by the city for a little over $22 million has already been sold to DC-based commercial real estate developer Akridge.

In her lengthy message to members and patrons of the downtown Y, Angie L. Reese-Hawkins, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington YMCA, noted while the facility which opened 37 years ago has seen its membership decline in the past several years by 7,600 –- from 11,000 to 3,400. She attributes this decline to such factors as “shifting demographics and needs” and that “there now are more than 30 like-service providers within walking distance” of the building.

In her attempt to assuage the current users, she points to the Anthony Bowen branch located just off 14th and W Streets which opened, as we reported, <> in its completely new facility just two years ago. Unfortunately, even though she states that it is only a mile away, for the large cadre of office and professional workers in the immediate area who use the facility frequently during the week before and after work or during lunch break time, traipsing up to the lower end of South Columbia Heights is hardly an option.

In attempting to stress the positive, she further states that “the Y plans to utilize the proceeds from the sale of the YMCA National Capital facility to serve more region-wide residents and provide more volunteer and employment opportunities, thus increasing our impact in the region.” This is all well and good, but it seems to us that, notwithstanding planned beefing up of existing programs in other parts of the city, the focus will be shifting noticeably to outside the city. That will be unfortunate indeed. YMCA.

Reaction by long-time loyal users and members has begun to surface, and it is not of the happy kind. An example can be seen in a letter Jim Bedore of Adams Morgan, who uses the facility several times a week, sent to Mayor Bowser; he appears to raise valid concerns. Following are some excerpts well worth sharing with our readers:

“I urge . . . you to have whatever DC office keeps track of non-profits to look closely into this closing. Seeming incompetence, and perhaps financial malfeasance, by the Board of Directors is obvious to me.

“Several statements by the Board in its announcement are simply untrue. The new Bowen YMCA is NOT, regrettably, a ‘state of the art’ facility. Its swimming pool is in no way comparable to the one at National Capital (at a maximum 5’9″ depth for example, it is not adequate for senior water aerobics) [or, we might add, for diving!]. The size and design of its locker rooms is extremely poor. . . . Also, the Board notes ‘30-like’ facilities in the neighborhood. If true, this testifies to the Y Board’s monumental management incompetence in marketing.”

We might also note that while there may be 30 “like-service providers” in near proximity, she neatly avoids defining what she means by “like.” Fact is, downtown these are mostly of the health club variety, very expensive and without swimming pools or serious recreational offerings but rather mostly designed to cater to Millennials who want nothing more than to polish toned bodies in time for the next date.

And we echo Jim Bedore’s complaint and comment: “Only three months notice of closing was given. No consultation was made with staff or the existing membership. It is no way to run a non-profit in this city.”