Just what is the future of the Austin YMCA?
The answer may well depend on whom you ask.
In the aftermath of the Austin YMCA-located on 501 N. Central-recently closing its mental health program, rumors continue to swirl over whether the facility itself is nearing its end, or simply transitioning as an neighborhood organization.
According to a spokesperson for YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, there is “no validity to the claims that there have been discussions to sell the building” despite insistent concerns over the facility’s future.
“I don’t know what I can say to alleviate the fears except that there are no plans to sell the Austin YMCA,” said Lee Concha, community director for YMCA Chicago. “The property has not been sold nor is it on the market for sale.”
Virgil Crawford, community organizer for the Westside Health Authority, said he’s heard rumors regarding an alleged plan to sell the facility to housing developers.
“Austin is the largest community in the Chicagoland area but it has precious few options in terms of recreational activities for the children. Closing the Austin YMCA would be a tremendous blow to the community,” Crawford said. “It is very much part of the fabric of Austin. We need to know whether or not it is in jeopardy of closing, and it appears as though we are not getting straight forward answers.”
Concha said there are plans to expand its programs at the Austin YMCA, including its upcoming two-day flag football clinic and tournament for boys and girls on Nov. 26 at Levin Park, 5458 W. Kinzie Parkway.
The Austin Y this month closed its mental health program because of budget issues, transferring its 22 patients to alternative facilities. Officials cited the Y’s transition toward prevention than intervention efforts in shuttering the program and insisted that its residency rooms would remain.
Despite Concha’s insistence, rumors regarding the Y have persisted.
Shanika Finley, who’s challenging Ald. Emma Mitts in the 37th Ward race, and also a volunteer at the Austin Y, insists that YMCA Chicago is not being truthful about its intentions. She maintained that YMCA Chicago have been in talks to sell the 57-year-old building to Mercy Housing Lakefront, which develops and manages low-income housing.
According to Finley, the agency plans to convert it to a 100-unit senior center. Finley added that Richard Malone, CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, had conducted a meeting recently with stakeholders and local politicians about a potential sale.
“Malone acknowledged that he met with stakeholders over the building,” Finley said. “It’s sort of a slap in the face to the community who deserve to be made a part of these discussions.”
A spokeswoman for Mercy Housing Lakefront was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article saying that the organization has been in talks with the YMCA about the building “for at least a year.”
Finley acknowledged potential criticism against her for creating “unwarranted fear” over the Austin Y as part of her political agenda.
“I understand that some my question my motives in pushing this cause,” she said. “But I have lived on the West Side all my life and know the importance of maintaining that recreational facility. I just don’t want the community to wake up one day and see a big “sold” sign on the front door and ask, ‘Why?’ never knowing it was closing.”