River Falls YMCA announces its closing at the end of monthArea News
-- Despite hopefulness of members and the community that the YMCA of River Falls would stay around for the long-term future, YMCA Group Vice President of Operations Stephanie Chauss sent an e-mail message March 8 to members that the Y would be closing March 31, 2012.
By: Debbie Griffin, Pierce County Herald
Despite hopefulness of members and the community that the YMCA of River Falls would stay around for the long-term future, YMCA Group Vice President of Operations Stephanie Chauss sent an e-mail message March 8 to members that the Y would be closing March 31, 2012. The communication outlined members’ options, which included continuing their membership at the Hudson location or cancelling it.
The e-mail said, “Regrettably, this decision became necessary because we could not reach an affordable lease agreement with our landlord, Nash Finch Company.”
Responding to requests for more information, the Journal received a written communication both from the YMCA and from Econofoods’ parent company, Nash Finch.
The question of “what happens to the Y?” became more and more prominent as Nash Finch progressed with plans to do a multi-million dollar remodeling project to its Riverside Plaza building, which has housed the Y for the past eight years.
Information from the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities says it is important for people to know that Nash Finch has been a longtime and committed supporter of the Y. The grocer subsidized the Y’s rent for three years, enabling it to continue operating during the recession.
Chauss says in the Y’s statement, “This was a very difficult and wrenching decision. Our sincere hope is that River Falls members and program participants will continue to take advantage of Y programs in Hudson and the 20 other Y locations.”
The Y says that in late November, it received an eviction notice from Nash Finch then began discussions with the company. It says it was told that to remain in the current space, it would be required to occupy an additional 11,000 square feet plus pay rent and utilities on common space totaling about 19,000 square feet. The Y says it was also told it would be responsible for the costs of remodeling and “building out” its expanded space.
The Y says after receiving the notice, it began strategizing with its board and members about how to meet the new requirements.
“Hard as we tried, these are very significant additional costs,” Chauss said. “We’ve had to rely on the generosity of Nash Finch to keep the Y open in River Falls these past three years. Even with the rent-free situation from them, the YMCA was subsidizing this (River Falls) Y heavily to keep providing services to the community. It just wasn’t possible to now pay rent on 19,000 square feet, pay for the build-out and pay the added operating costs. All these additional costs would be on top of the subsidy we already were doing.”
Chauss mentions the dedicated group of volunteers from board members to supporters and directly apologizes to them that this was necessary. The information says anyone who offered a contribution to the current Y Partners campaign will have it returned to them.
The Y employed two full-time and 37 part-time people, some of whom also work in Hudson. The organization says it is working with staff members to transition them to other jobs at the Y if they are interested in doing so.
When an affordable lease agreement could not be reached, the Y says it learned it needed to vacate the space within 30 days, requiring fast communication with members and supporters via phone and e-mail messages.
“This was very difficult news for our members to hear,” Chauss says. “We hated having to do an impersonal phone message or e-mail Thursday night to break the news, but things were moving so fast, we didn’t want our members to hear about this from anyone except us.”
The information says the Y’s preschool, located in the River Falls Academy building, will close at the end of the school year. That operation fell under the responsibility of the River Falls Y staff.
The Y held meetings with parents the morning of March 9 and informed them of preschool options available through the Hudson Y. The organization is still exploring options to provide its Summer Power and Summer Uproar programs and will notify families about that later.
YMCA also expresses its thanks and gratitude to the community and says one day, perhaps it will again be able to offer services here.
Nash Finch says
Nash Finch shared a letter dated March 11 that its President and CEO, Alec Covington, wrote to the president and CEO of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, Thomas Brinsko.
Covington says, “I was most disappointed last week to learn of the abrupt decision by the YMCA to end all discussion on the new lease for the River Falls YMCA space. I was even more disheartened by the language used in your member communications which in essence blames our company for your decision to close your doors in River Falls.”
He continues that while the decision may have been “occasioned” by the recent economic downturn, it was not caused by a lack of support from Nash Finch.
Covington states that the Y has not only operated “without paying a single dollar in rent,” but also it has not paid any of the other expenses commercial tenants typically pay such as real estate taxes, common-area maintenance and insurance.
He says Nash Finch has basically borne about $200,000 worth of expenses over three years’ time to keep the Y operating. Covington says he is “hard pressed” to understand how the Y could impose blame -- which he asserts is apparent in its communication to members -- onto Nash Finch.
“Perhaps even more troubling is that you incorrectly advised your members -- and the public -- that Nash Finch sent you an eviction notice in November, 2011,” says Covington. “That is not a fair characterization of the notice sent to you by our Chief Financial Officer advising you the lease would terminate on December 31, 2011. That letter acknowledged the ongoing lease negotiations between the YMCA and Nash Finch, and merely stated that if we were unable to come to terms on a new lease, you would need to return the space to us. Advising your members that you were evicted is simply not accurate.”
Nash Finch says it is also “baffled” by the Y’s assertion that the grocer was somehow forcing it into more space, especially upon reviewing an e-mail dated Nov. 18, 2011, from the Y’s financial officer, outlining a proposal for the organization to sign a three-year lease; occupy 19,000 square feet; and pay monthly rent starting no later than March 1, 2012.
“The lease we have been negotiating since November is based on the YMCA’s proposal,” says Covington.
Covington asks why the Y did not propose less space if that is what it needed. He says Nash Finch would have worked with the organization to configure the space in a mutually beneficial way.
The CEO recognizes the “gracious and hardworking local families” who have supported their company for decades. He said he made it a personal mission to improve those people’s shopping experience, including he thought, an improved and expanded YMCA.
His letter also mentions Nash Finch’s large investment, how the city has been “wonderful” to work with and that the company is committed to an improved building and surrounding amenities. He said he was personally disappointed that the Y’s explanation basically “casts a shadow” on the grocer’s support and commitment to the community.
Covington says he understands difficult business decisions but hopes the Y will reconsider its decision to terminate discussions and close the River Falls location. He asserts that he remains willing to help in any reasonable way.