As fundraising deadline looms, Y officials rally support for Mahackeno plan
Published 6:53 am, Thursday, April 26, 2012
Westport Weston Family Y officials sought to rally support at a forum Wednesday night for a planned 55,000-square-foot center at the Y's Mahackeno property, as they continue to face a multi-million dollar fundraising gap for the project.
"`This is a full-size, full facility, with a gym, two pools and three exercise areas bigger than the three we have now," Rob Reeves, the Y's chief executive officer told a handful of Family Y members in the board room at the Y's current home at 59 Post Road East. "It's really what we need; it's a sustainable Y."
Y officials originally planned to build a 102,000-square-foot center at the Mahackeno campus. But after falling more than $16 million short of their initial $23 million fundraising goal, the Y's Boards of Directors and Trustees decided in February to move ahead with a less costly 55,000-square-foot project. The downsized complex will cost $36 million to build, according to Y officials, and requires that the Y raise a total of $12.5 million through its "Building What Matters" capital campaign.
The Y has so far amassed $8.9 million through its capital campaign, a total buoyed by a $1 million contribution this week from Bonnie Strittmatter, the president of Y's Board of Directors, and her husband, Bill. In addition, Allen Raymond, a former Y president and Westport's town historian, last month made a $500,000 pledge to the campaign.
Fundraising for the Mahackeno center was overshadowed for several weeks by public debate over a proposal announced by the Y in February to build a sewer line to the Mahackeno property. Y officials argued that a sewer connection constituted an environmentally conscious option that also could save the Y more than a $1 million compared to building a septic system at Mahackeno. But critics of the plan countered that amending town zoning and sewer regulations to facilitate a Mahackeno sewer connection could lead to more development in less built-up parts of town.
Faced with opposition, the Y on April 9 withdrew its application for a Mahackeno sewer connection. The Y instead plans to move forward with its initial proposal to install a new septic facility at Mahackeno to handle wastewater from the new complex.
Reeves has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the Y will need to collect a total "significantly close" to its $12.5 million target by mid-May to meet financial and construction deadlines for an October groundbreaking for the Mahackeno center. The Y plans to open that new center by the end of 2014. That timeframe is linked to a November 2014 deadline for the Y to vacate its downtown center to comply with an agreement with Bedford Square Associates, a development consortium that is the contract purchaser of 59 Post Road East.
The Y's Boards of Directors and Trustees are set to hold a May 14 joint meeting on the project. Reeves and Les Wolf, a Y board member, indicated Wednesday that Y officials may defer a decision on moving forward with the Mahackeno project until the end of May.
"The Boards [of Directors and Trustees] will meet and review the status of where we are, both in terms of where we are with the progress of the building and where we are financially," Wolf told the Westport News. "Based on that information, we'll either make a decision or postpone it until we get better information."
In the initial phase, a Mahackeno center would not include a child-care center nor would it have a gymnastics complex -- both of which are features of its current downtown home. However, they might be added later. At no point, however, would the Mahackeno center feature men's or women's health centers -- another pair of amenities that the downtown Y offers.
Y officials maintain, nonetheless, that they are committed to eventually building out the Mahackeno complex to the originally planned 102,000-square-foot size. A Y center with that footprint could accommodate as many as 8,000 members. The Y's current membership totals about 5,500.
Several Y members on Wednesday urged Y leaders to be more assertive in their fundraising and advocacy for the Mahackeno center.
"I really believe that you have not really adequately walked the walk in terms of communicating some of the visions that you have," said Marcia Falk. "You really should get out the forces and do so more communicating about that."
Another member, Peter Holewinski, expressed a similar viewpoint. "Maybe, you're licking your wounds a little too much over the battles, but hopefully that phase is over," he said. "Now's the time to start rallying people."
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