Community Leaders Rally Outside South Mountain YMCA

February 18, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the Valley of the Sun YMCA)
The South Mountain Family YMCA building.

When Mel Martin donated property in South Phoenix to build a new YMCA, he hoped the recreation center would serve the community for generations to come. It is almost 20 years later, and the South Mountain YMCA near Central Avenue and Olympic Drive is set to close next month. Martin said he had no idea the property was being sold until it was too late to save it.

“They don’t want to put a fundraiser on or try to get more people in the Y. They just want to sell it and be done with it,” Martin said.

Valley of the Sun YMCA Vice President of Marketing Jim Diaz cited funding shortages as a reason to sell the property. To save money in the past, they had to get rid of their kids sports programs, and they also started running the pool on a seasonal schedule instead of year-round.

“It is a little bit of a chicken and an egg that I know some of the members are concerned about,” Diaz said. “They said, well the reason you don’t have membership is because you don’t have programming, the reason we don’t have programming is because we don’t have membership.”

This tandem decline in membership and programming can be traced back to competition moving into the neighborhood, according to George Young, a board member for the South Mountain Y. An LA Fitness and the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center were both built nearby in 2012. Young said the Valley of the Sun metro board had a difficult time handling the branch’s competitors.

“There was no planning. There was no how can we get ahead of this game, can we cut our rates? None of that ever happened and so consequently we lost a lot of members to those other facilities,” Young said.

Membership has continually declined, but some members stayed loyal. Members like Lisa Cooper.

“I’m usually there six days a week. My son is there six days a week,” Cooper said.

And it is been this way for the past six years, she said. Ever since Cooper moved to Phoenix from California, she and her son have used the South Mountain Y. Cooper takes different classes, and her son works out with friends and was involved in other programs there.

“My son was in soccer, he swam every year and this past summer he helped volunteer teaching swimming at the Y,” Cooper said.

Cooper attended a meeting on Monday meant to inform members of the closure and that they will be able to use their memberships at other locations through May 31. Cooper said she will not be going to a different YMCA because the next closest one is in downtown Phoenix, and there would be too much traffic in the late afternoon to commute. She said the Kroc center is also not an option because they don’t have as much variety in classes and they charge for individual classes, which she said is too pricey for her.

Community leaders speaking out against the closure said the Y has served many underprivileged youth and provided an affordable membership in a low-income area. Cooper said the Y also offers something no other place could.

“It’s not just a gym, it’s a community center. You can’t replace a real community,” she said. “It’s a great loss. My son is upset, we’re both just devastated.”

The YMCA will keep the baseball and football fields, which were also donated by Mel Martin. But March 28 will be the last day for members to use the indoor facilities, and Cooper said she was told the pool will not open at all this spring.

Martin said he wish he knew about the sale sooner, because he would have wanted to donate more to keep the Y running. The property, besides the fields, is being sold to the James Megellas Foundation, which plans to turn it into a school. Community members held a rally outside the Y today to show their concern about the closure.