DionRabouin.com (sort of)

Butler ‘Y’ suspends activities

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on May 18, 2012

(Written for The Atlanta Voice 5/18/2012)

ATLANTA – The historic Butler Street YMCA, a staple of Atlanta’s black community for more than 100 years, has suspended all activities at its downtown location effective this week, officials told the Atlanta Voice.

The executive board also distributed notices to tenants of the building this week telling them they have until June 14 to find other lodging.

Butler Street YMCA executive board chairman Aslee Smith insisted that the suspension of activities does not mean the YMCA will close for good. Smith, however, did not give a date for renewal of activities.

“We’re going to suspend, restructure, rehabilitate and revitalize,” Smith said. “We’re suspending the activities just so we can restructure.”

He declined to provide further details, saying only that the board will have another meeting in June to decide future action.

Rumors have swirled for months that the historic YMCA – where civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. spent their youth – would shut down because of rising costs and declining revenue.

Executive board member Jerome Edmondson, who works as part of the strategic planning and development wing, said the board has no plans to sell or get rid of the iconic YMCA, once touted as the “Black City Hall of Atlanta.”

“Our goal, as the next generation, was to preserve [the center] and in order to do that we had to stop its current hemorrhaging and the processes that were in place that weren’t working,” he said.

“So, yes, we made a decision that instead of just running it the way we are now, why don’t we [close] our doors…and open back up as a heritage Y for the current generation of YMCA users.”

Edmondson said the board does have a blueprint for change and has several “strategic partners” that expressed interest in making an investment in the area. He declined to provide names of those partners.

He insisted that no one on the board would consider selling or shutting down the Butler Street YMCA for good. He also said none of the residents living in the Y’s transitional housing would be left out in the cold.

“We just found out that some of our Ys are better at transitional housing than we are,” he said. “I know that there may be some folks that say, ‘Hey, I’ve been here and I want to stay here,’ but they’ll get a better environment and there definitely won’t be anyone on the street.”

A notice to tenants, obtained by The Atlanta Voice, said the board is trying to find housing vouchers and other options for veterans and others to “lessen the impact of the pending closure.”

One resident, Ron Robinson, said he was surprised and disappointed by the announcement, but believes he’ll have enough time to make a transition.

“I’ll probably just go to the Union Mission or some place like that,” said Robinson, 59, who’s been unemployed for more than a year and living at the YMCA at reduced cost.

Butler Street YMCA patrons seem to be in agreement that change is needed. Richard Harris, a 51-year-old Butler Street YMCA member who has been using the center for six years, said he was not surprised by the suspension of activities.

“From my perspective this place has been managed wrong,” Harris said. “That’s the cause of it sinking under.

“When I was a kid, I grew up in the Y. It was a place where kids came to play basketball, arts and crafts, all types of things,” he said.

“They don’t have that here,” he said. “This is more like a health spa where they want you to pay a monthly fee and come in and work out; no programs for the kids.”

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