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YMCA running fast toward $75M goal

Driven by a strong showing of support so far, the YMCA of Greater Rochester is keeping its eyes on 2020 as it builds momentum for its Strengthening Communities Campaign across the area.

The campaign aims is to raise $75 million by 2020. To date, it has raised $54 million, or nearly 72 percent of the goal with three years to go.

Over $15 million was raised since last May.

“We’re making great progress,” said Jurij Kushner, campaign chairman. “We did great our first year; I expect to do very well our second year and I am absolutely convinced that we will close it out in the third year.”

The purpose of the nonprofit’s decade-long campaign is to help update existing YMCAs in the county as well as build a new location in Pittsford.

The details of the campaign were made public last May after three years of quiet fundraising.

“Because we spent so much money on the urban renovation first, (now) we’re doing the suburbs,” said George Romell, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Rochester. “And honestly there are Y’s that are left out of this. The wheel always turns; the next time around it would be something else.”

Now it is time for the Rochester business community to see the YMCA for what it is: an economic driver, Romell said.

“The Y is a unique social enterprise,” Romell said. “The Y is an economic engine. I say the health of a community and a Y are intertwined. If a community is healthy, a Y is healthy and vice versa. People who are employing other people need places for those people to have quality of life, and the Y is one of those places.”

The employees of the region’s companies find value in the YMCA. Those companies should too, Romell said.

“The corporate community: we need their help,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. There’s a lot of individual philanthropy in this community that it has transitioned to. We don’t have the Kodaks, but there is still corporate philanthropy.”

The YMCA of Greater Rochester ranked No. 10 on the RBJ 75 list of the region’s largest employers with 2,544 employees. It has over 100,000 members. It logged $44.5 million in revenue last year, up from $41 million in 2015.

The region has 17 YMCA properties, with four of them outside of Monroe County: the Victor YMCA, Ontario County; Camp Cory, Yates County; Camp Gorham, Herkimer County; and the Corning Community YMCA, Steuben County.

The YMCAs in Monroe County work collaboratively in terms of finances. That is a different model from others in the country that are more standalone enterprises. The boards of each branch understand the responsibility to help support the other locations in the area.

So far the campaign has helped renovate the Maplewood YMCA—a $7 million upgrade—and expand the Eastside YMCA in Penfield. Another goal is to endow the Lewis Street Center to ensure its future, since the property is currently leased out.

The centerpiece of the $75 million fund is the “mega Y” that will be built in Pittsford on 20 acres near the Henrietta border.

The new Pittsford YMCA—to be known as the Regional Campus for Healthy Living—is expected to break ground in April 2018 and open by fall 2019, officials said. The current Southeast YMCA in Pittsford, at 111 East Jefferson Road, is slated to be used by a church come 2019.

“I think this is a splendid project,” said William Smith Jr., Pittsford town supervisor. “I’m delighted the YMCA chose Pittsford for its new facility. They are very good people to work with, and I think this is going to be a major benefit to folks not only in Pittsford but in the surrounding area.”

The new site will create 137 jobs, retain 443 jobs and support up to 400 construction jobs, officials said.

“In the last six months we’re really revving up,” Romell said. “I don’t want people to become complacent. I think that people will see the building go into the ground and, remember it takes a year and a half to build this building, and they say, ‘Oh, they’re building it, I don’t need to give.’ The reality is that by the time we break ground we’ve got to be at least 80 percent of our campaign.”

The site, at the northwest corner of Jefferson Road and Clover Street, is 138,000 square feet of space previously zoned for an office development—a big step up from the 42,000-square-feet footprint of the current Southeast YMCA branch.

“What I’ve learned from the process so far is, as with other institutions, the YMCA has evolved over time, and this is definitely not my grandfather’s YMCA,” Smith said. “There is a much greater focus on wellness; there is much greater focus on providing services to senior citizens.”

The goal is to raise $15 million for the new YMCA before any shovels are in the ground. So far $6.3 million has been raised.

“The heaviest lift of all of the elements is building a new Y,” Kushner said. “Capital is difficult for any nonprofit to raise. We’ve never raised more than $5-$6 million for a capital project in the past, so $15 million is a big leap forward.”

New features at the proposed Pittsford location include 15,000 square feet for a health care partner expected to be announced this summer; 15,000 square feet for a licensed day care center; expanded aquatics, including a lap lane and warm-water pools; the largest indoor track of any YMCA in the area; and a large community wing.

“The building design that they presented to our design review board is just right on target for the sort of thing that we would like to see in the community,” Smith said. “I think we’re all very grateful with the way they worked with the town and listened in coming up with a design for a building that fits.”

The new Pittsford location will be a facility to watch for the rest of the country, Romell said. The focus now is how to help others see the value in supporting the YMCA.

The YMCA of Greater Rochester was founded in 1854 locally. The Strengthening Communities Campaign is the nonprofit’s long-term vision.

“The Y is deeply entrenched in helping to solve these poverty problems,” Romell said. “If people think of the Y as a gym, we have made a mistake. The Y is a human services organization with a very interesting entrepreneurial model.”

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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