At a public meeting held at the Y on February 15, ongoing tension erupted between YMCA officials and a group of Huntington Avenue members. YMCA officials tried to present their plans for the site while members frequently interrupted with pointed questions and accusations.
The YMCA with Northeastern University and Phoenix Construction Company in October 2010 to sell part of the historic Huntington Avenue YMCA building to Northeastern, who plans to build a 17-story dormitory on the site.
“The expense of building upkeep drains vital resources that should be used for our mission,” said Wendy Zinn, Executive Director of the Huntington Avenue YMCA at the start of the meeting.
Under the proposed plan the YMCA will sell the rear portion of the building, which currently houses most of its exercise facilities. The Y will then build a 23,000 square foot addition in between the dorm and the retained space with a new pool, gym, and handball courts.
Opponents of the plan vowed to “fight this to the end” and claimed the YMCA had lost their trust. Key among their concerns are the smaller size of the proposed gym, which is not NCAA regulation sized, the move to co-ed saunas, and deeper fears that management is ignoring current members by trying to attract more family and women members, and that Northeastern will buy the whole building in the future.
“You sold to Northeastern for greed” one disgruntled member yelled out during the meeting.
“The central message of this is that you don’t care about the members,” said Andre Jones, a Y member at the close of the meeting.
Several YMCA members have mobilized to stop the Y’s plans. “Our goal is to stop this project, which we consider a travesty, and encourage Northeastern to build a dorm on their own parcels,” said David Mynott, a graphic designer and 15-year member of the Huntington Avenue YMCA after the meeting.
Calvin Arey, another 15-year member of the Y started a petition against the plans last January that’s gathered 1,100 member signatures so far.
There are currently 3,368 members of the Huntington Avenue YMCA. Kelley Rice, vice president of External Affairs for the Greater Boston YMCA, said in a phone interview that people who are happy with the plans don’t show up at the community meetings. The heated exchanges with the twenty or thirty “Save the Boston Y” advocates who attended the meeting “isn’t representative of the membership,” she said.
However, this isn’t the first time Huntington Ave members have mobilized against Y management plans. In 2007, YMCA plans to sell to Phoenix Construction Co. were halted because of widespread opposition to the plan.
Rice says that what was different then was that Phoenix Construction was going to build an independent dorm for students attending a number of colleges across Boston. The lack of oversight concerned not just YMCA members, but neighbors and city government officials. This time, Northeastern University will take sole responsibility for the students and neighbors and city government officials are supportive of the plan.
While the current plan was announced in 2010, a formal purchase-and-sale agreement between the YMCA and Northeastern has yet to be signed. Rice, says that she expects the signing to be “imminent.”
The Huntington Avenue YMCA was the first Y in the country. Its cornerstone was laid by President William Taft in 1912.