Out of Options, Stamford YMCA Will Close Permanently on March 31

Stamford YMCA (CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – The YMCA, an iconic institution in Stamford as it is in many U.S. cities, is closing permanently.

The organization, formally called Stamford Family YMCA, has posted a notice on its website saying it will cease operations by March 31.

The YMCA has been downtown since 1868. It was on Atlantic Street for much of that time then moved to Washington Boulevard in the mid-1970s. 

In a 2008 effort to stay afloat, the YMCA sold part of that property and moved its entrance around the corner to Bell Street. 

But the YMCA is out of options, members of the board of directors said.

“We have been a proud member of the Stamford community for over 150 years,” board treasurer Peter Wieland wrote in the website statement. “Unfortunately, as a result of declining revenues and escalating expenses, it was a clear decision that the operations were financially unsustainable.” 

Board Chair Paul Macari said Wednesday that a confluence of factors proved too great to overcome. COVID-19 precautions shut down the YMCA’s fitness programs and youth services during the pandemic, then public funds for after-school care shrank, Macari said. With that, enrollment in YMCA offerings declined, he said.

“The pandemic was a punch in the gut,” Macari said. “State funding mechanisms, in particular, dried up. The combination was just too much.”

The pool, central to the YMCA’s many learn-to-swim programs,  has already shut down. Other services will end in the coming weeks.

Macari said people who use YMCA services typically pay month to month, so the organization will stop billing in early March.

“Everybody can continue to use the facility until March 31,” he said. “They will have full service for the time they’ve already paid for.”

The Stamford organization is working with the YMCA of the USA to arrange for its members to join other YMCAs, and to help employees find jobs at sister facilities, Macari said.

The Stamford Family YMCA has half a dozen full-timers, and about 20 part-timers such as exercise instructors and coaches, he said. 

Stamford YMCA (CT Examiner)

The fate of the 1973 building, which the Stamford YMCA owns, is unclear, Macari said.

City records show that the 42,600-square-foot structure at 10 Bell St. was appraised last year at $4.45 million.

“All options are up in the air,” Macari said. “The board wants to take the right steps for our staff, our members, for child care, for the community. We want to be able to salvage what we can to be of service.”

It may be that the YMCA sells the building to an organization  with a similar mission, or it may be that it’s bought by a developer and the YMCA uses the money to collaborate with the school district, a community center, the Boys & Girls Club or similar group to provide after-school care and other needed services in Stamford, Macari said.

“We want to be able to reconfigure the value of our services without walls,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity out there, outside of a brick-and-mortar facility. That’s why we are working with the mayor’s office. We have a lot of analysis to do.”

The Stamford Family YMCA is a nonprofit that provides community services along with financial assistance for qualifying individuals and families.

It offers affordable after-school programs and summer camps for kids, exercise programs for seniors, a wellness program for corporate employees, and personal training. 

The Bell Street building has a pool, gym, fitness center, weight room, and racquetball and squash courts. Classes include boot camp, Zumba, yoga and swimming.

It’s an example of how YMCAs have adapted to the needs of the communities they serve.

The organization, originally called the Young Men’s Christian Association, was founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, a 22-year-old farmer who migrated to the city for work. Williams witnessed turmoil, despair, tenement housing and punishing poverty, according to the organization’s website.

So he and 11 friends organized the first YMCA as “a refuge for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets,” according to the website. 

Seven years later, a retired Boston sea captain, Thomas Valentine Sullivan, saw a similar need for a safe “home away from home” for sailors and merchants, and formed the first YMCA in the United States, the website states. 

Since then YMCAs have been formed to serve Black and Asian and native Americans; railroad and factory workers; young men seeking the discipline of sports; and to provide community services and housing.

The Stamford YMCA building, in fact, originally had an eight-story hotel at Washington Boulevard and Bell Street. Because of financial struggles, the organization sold that portion to a developer in 2008.

The developer renovated it and reopened it as a 97-room hotel, Zero Degrees, which has since been rebranded as The Lloyd.

“That gave the YMCA a new lease on life for a while,” said former Mayor Michael Pavia, who was in office at the time. “The new staff did a lot of programming – after school, summer camp – things that kept it viable. But even though downtown was where the services were needed most, the location didn’t work. It wasn’t conducive to parents picking up and dropping off kids.”

That issue arose again because of development underway downtown, said a parent who enrolled her children in YMCA programs. It was difficult to navigate narrow Bell Street and busy Washington Boulevard, said the parent, who didn’t want her name published.

It became clear last year that the YMCA was understaffed, leading to problems with organization, communication and billing, according to the parent.

A quick internet search shows YMCAs are closing, consolidating or reorganizing in cities nationwide.

It’s a call to change with the times, Macari said.

“I’m sad to lose an icon in Stamford, but at the same time I’m excited,” he said. “I think it’s a chance to look at perhaps a different way of providing our mission.”

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.