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YMCA to end daily fitness memberships at downtown Carlson MetroCenter

Max Schulte/WXXI News

There is a big change coming for YMCA services in downtown Rochester.

The change is a continuation of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic when the traditional daily membership with pool, gym and weight training facilities at the Carlson MetroCenter on East Main Street were temporarily suspended last November.

On Wednesday the YMCA of Greater Rochester announced that those facilities will be closed permanently.

Other services will continue at the MetroCenter Y including the Early Learning Child Care Center, before and after school program, Y School of ROC and Summer Quest.

YMCA President & CEO George Romell said that they did a study, and found that even before the pandemic hit a year ago, the gym facilities at the large Carlson MetroCenter building were just not getting a lot of use, compared to other Ys in the area.

“It became very clear that based on participation, you literally cannot support an operation that has 65,000  square feet dedicated to this program and serves an average of 500 people per day,” Romell said.

Credit YMCA (from interview on Zoom)
George Romell, president & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Rochester talks about the upcoming changes to the downtown Carlson MetroCenter.

Romell added that in the year before the COVID shutdown, only 19% of Carlson members actively used the MetroCenter Y once a week or more. He said that even with significant subsidies that came from the YMCA’s suburban locations, the Carlson operation has been posting yearly losses greater than $1 million since 2017.

Romell said the YMCA would rather focus resources to increase neighborhood access to health and wellness and helping to overcome disparities in the city.

The YMCA announced last year that it would be closing the Monroe Family YMCA on Monroe Avenue partly due to the impact of the pandemic as well as dwindling membership before the pandemic. The Victor Active Family Center was also closed last year but the YMCA did build the new Schottland Family Branch YMCA in Pittsford which opened in late 2019.

Romell realizes that some people looking at the current setup will question whether the YMCA is putting more emphasis on the suburbs than on its facilities in the city. He noted that a main goal behind investing in the suburban locations is to generate revenue that can help support the Y’s urban mission.

One problem the YMCA has faced over the last year, is that with state restrictions on capacity at YMCA facilities due to COVID, they can’t generate the kind of revenue they usually would be able to use to help subsidize operations in the city.

The YMCA continues to operate three locations in the city including the Maplewood Family YMCA, the Southwest Family YMCA and the YMCA Center for Equity on Lewis Street.

Officials say they are committed to enhancing those locations and the YMCA’s Community Services Division.

"I think of what we do at Lewis Street, now with the Equity Center, I think of the day to day activity for the last decade in Maplewood, the fact that we have an operation in the southwest," Romell said. 

"It’s not lost on our board that that really is helping to cover a significant amount of the Crescent,” Romell added, using a term that is sometimes used to describe an area of Rochester challenged by poverty and other issues.

Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News

The YMCA of Greater Rochester is also establishing a task force for “mission-critical city services” to help reposition the way the Y delivers services.

“We will look at alternative locations. One of our goals is to make sure health and wellness and other services are closer to people in need and have the opportunity to impact them,” Romell said.

The task force begins its work in May and the process is expected to take several months.

YMCA officials said that Carlson staff who are currently working will continue to work in other Y locations. All currently furloughed staff (who have been on furlough since last November) will lose their jobs. The organization said that employees who lost their positions are able to reapply for any open position throughout the YMCA.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.