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Dunbar YMCA discusses $1.6 million mortgage and future

Date: 9/18/2014

SPRINGFIELD – More than 100 residents of the Mason Square area attended a meeting at Spring of Hope Church on Sept. 11, which addressed the current $1.6 million mortgage and the future status of the nearly 100-year-old Dunbar YMCA Family & Community Center at 33 Oak St.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sponsored the meeting, which allowed Mason Square residents to voice their questions regarding the Dunbar Y. 

Victor Woolridge, immediate former chair of the Dunbar Board of Directors, said during the 2007 to 2008 global financial crisis, the Dunbar Community Center began to develop erosion to its operational revenue base.

“We concluded what we needed to do was reposition Dunbar and that meant finding other partnerships, joint ventures, mergers, anything of that nature that would strengthen us and to do it in a short amount of time when in effect we were still a strong entity,” he said.

Executive staff members that were not being replaced were another factor that accelerated a decline in revenue, he added. 

In 2011, the Dunbar was in risk of foreclosure and at that time the YMCA of Greater Springfield partnered with the community center, he said. Since then, the Dunbar Y’s membership has grown from a nearly vacant facility to one that has 3,500 people involved in programs.

“We brought in the Y specifically to rebuild our programs, increase the occupancy of the property, and manage the finances,” he said.

A total of $500,000 was raised in private funds during this time period that allowed the Dunbar to re-establish the membership program during a two-year period, Woolridge explained. That money could not be used towards the debt.

“Right now, we’re not even breaking even [with] operating [expenses],” he said. “It’s negative cash flow but we make that up through fundraising gifts and other sorts of things.”

Bank of America signed a loan with Dunbar in December 2003 for $1.2 million, he said. Bank of America then sold the mortgage to an opportunity fund, which threatened to foreclose on the mortgage before the Y’s involvement.

Ellen Freyman, the current chair of the Dunbar Board of Directors, said at this time no letter of foreclosure has been issued and the Dunbar YMCA is still in negotiations.

If the opportunity fund decides to foreclose on the building, one possible venture discussed was to have someone at the auction buy the building, perhaps for a less expensive price than the mortgage, she said.

Kirk Smith, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, said that even if the Dunbar YMCA building were to be foreclosed, the Dunbar YMCA would continue by finding a new location.

“I am not from Springfield, but I know what struggle is,” said Smith, who also stated that the first time he saw professional looking African American adults was at the Boys Club he went to growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Smith said, in his opinion, the Dunbar YMCA is not only a public issue but also one of social justice.

“Kirk Smith, like everybody in this room, will come and go,” he added. “It’s about the legacy and those young people and keeping them alive.”
One of the agreements between Dunbar and the YMCA is that the facility is made accessible to anyone regardless of their financial situation, he added.

“Tell me how many places you can walk into with a family of 10 and say you have no money and they say, ‘You’ve come to the right place,’” he said. “That’s what we do; 85 percent of their members and 3,500 people at Dunbar are subsidized. What that means is that some people don’t pay a penny and that ones that can do.”

Smith urged that the best way to help the Dunbar YMCA is through a membership in order to help reduce the Dunbar’s operational deficit.  

Geraldine Garner, a resident of Springfield, asked whether the Dunbar YMCA has an emphasis on serving the community on a multi-generational basis.

Smith responded by stating that the Dunbar Y is absolutely dedicated to serving the Mason Square community and nearby neighborhoods.