Wine-and-chocolates tasting at P&O tomorrow to benefit Communities in Schools of Durham
More thoughts on the downtown Y & downtown parking

Lakewood Y: A night for spin-and-grin

BriAnne Dopart from the Herald-Sun had very good coverage in this morning's paper of the Lakewood Y community meeting held last night, and she captures well the disconnect that was evident between the YMCA of the Triangle's media-savvy and sometimes slick presentation and the heartfelt concerns of community members in attendance.

Be sure to read her story if you haven't already. Instead of recapping the meeting, I'd like to depart from my typical approach and look at this issue in a slightly different way.

I came into Tuesday night's meeting with some sympathies towards both sides in this argument. On the one hand, the Lakewood area has a proud history in Durham and is fighting to maintain a diverse, strong community in the wake of the closure of community institutions (such as the decline of the Lakewood Shopping Center.)

YMCA of the Triangle, for its part, is a nonprofit but one that wants to grow and serve new members in unmet population areas -- their desire to grow in population-rich South Durham and their concerns over the capital costs to support an old, disinvested facility, one which was neglected long before the Durham and Raleigh Y's merged, were understandable. (In re South Durham, which lacks both a Y and a City-funded rec center, we've talked about that issue here at BCR before, notably in the City's amnesia over its own master plan for rec centers calling for southern and not central Durham expansion.)

I walked away from Tuesday night's meeting more than a bit disheartened at the approach of the Triangle YMCA's Raleigh-based leadership. Notable was the evening's moderator, James White, the "senior vice president of leadership development" for the Triangle Y, who managed, somehow, to force a broad, happy smile at all times in the 90-minute presentation. Including, notably, while he was in the middle of asking someone to stop talking; or letting attendees know they weren't allowed to speak; or in responding to angry comments from the assembled citizenry.

The ever-present smile even at the moments the conversation didn't call for smiling came across as disingenuous -- a metaphor for community fears about the entire 'repurposing' process, and a symbol of the distrust that residents expressed last night.

The problem for the community is, what to believe? On the one hand, Y officials emphasize that they want to "grow" youth programs and maintain 'core' adult wellness services. On the other, they discuss plans to close the pool, close the facility's top floor, and keep closed the gymnastics room and programs.

YMCA leaders frame this change within the context of wanting to sell the building to a third party and sign a long-term lease for the Y to continue using a portion of the space. But in the context of hearing messages of "grow" and "shrink" simultaneously, the natural question Lakewood is asking is, how committed is the YMCA to maintaining the current level of operations?

White (smiling as he said it) and YMCA of the Triangle CEO Doug McMillan were both firm last night that no answers would be provided last night, but that the community's questions would be taken down and responded to later. (Chuck Clifton, head of the Committee to Save the Lakewood Y, has claimed that a couple of previous such promises for response have not been met, at least in the written form that CSLY has requested.)

Interestingly, in the midst of the Lakewood Y's own capital deficit, as noted above plans are eagerly afoot to grow the local Y. McMilllan noted that the Durham task force's recommendation includes opening a "program center" somewhere in South Durham by 2010. The Y also recommends adding family/youth locker rooms to the downtown facility (a widely-cited need) and trying to secure the City's permission to close Seminary St. in order to add more parking capacity for the facility. (This paragraph edited to make it clear that no such permission has been granted, or asked for.

Is this rational and expected behavior for a non-profit in an era when donors are looking for cost-benefit, return on investment, and other metrics more typical of businesses? Sadly, it is, and in that it reflects the changing realities for the non-profit sector, for better or, often, for worse.  (Note that you don't see the Y clamoring to build centers in North or East Durham -- areas of need that probably aren't demographically attractive in terms of adding paying members, but areas that are cited as needing City rec centers from our municipal government's perspective.)

Nor should it be surprising that the Lakewood Y can't maintain its current level of programs or facilities in an aging building, and that change is needed -- something Clifton and the community acknowledged last night.

But if the presentation and tone of Tuesday's meeting is any indication, most of the conflict between the community and Y at this point revolves not around what's being said and done, but how and in what manner. Mike Woodard's quote in the H-S this morning -- "What I heard tonight feels more like an exit strategy and a plan to save face" -- certainly reflected what I heard at the meeting, too.

There's a missing element of trust and faith between the community and the Raleigh-based leadership of the Triangle's Y. And even though today's issues have their roots in decisions made long before the merger -- when some Lakewood residents complained about the decision to build a new Y downtown instead of renovating Lakewood -- the biggest challenge for McMillan and his team lies in finding ways to regain that faith.

An odd problem for a faith-based organization to find itself in, indeed.



" . . . trying to close Seminary St. with the City's blessing in order to add more parking capacity for the facility."

Sweet Jesus, when is someone going to start saying that enough is enough when it comes to parking in downtown Durham and start thinking and talking about getting people out of their cars?

Myers Sugg

Thank you Kevin for once again your insightful journalism. The disinvestment in the physical plant at the Lakewood Y is the virus that has caused this downward spiral. The Y's leadership (its various sometimes secretive boards & administration) should be taken to task for WHY NOW? The condition of the building and flat membership is not a new revelation. The save face approach by Doug McMillan, et al, is SO frustrating. It's such politican talk, it makes me angry. The idea that things must be SPUN, increases the real distrust between us neighbors & certainly their current members. The contradiction of "we want to grow programs" and the reality of no organized basketball there this Fall & Winter. As I understand it, the basketball courts are plentiful and in good shape. It is also my understanding that the 1990's generous sized gymnastics padded room at the Lakewood Y is shuttered, and the program transfered downtown where the facility is inferior to the Lakewood Y's. Help me understand these contradictions? I'm from the school of "it walks like a duck, & quacks like a duck, then it is a duck."

If some "Sugar Daddy" can find the funds to purchase the facility, make the necesary capital improvements, and then be willing to lease a portion back to the Y operations, then in principal, I don't have a problem with that. Sugar Daddy will have to have deep pockets though. Although I don't know what the market value would be (the current re-valuation puts the land & its improvements at $4.5M), and the supposed $4.7M needed for improvements, pushes one scenario towards $10M. Some incredible rents will have to come from the Y & any other organization for this venture to be profitable to Sugar Daddy. If this Sugar Daddy leases any part of this building to a "for profit" venture, then the tax exempt status for the entire property can no longer be applied. Based on the proposed revenue neutral numbers, coupled with the current valuation, this would mean $50K+ would be owed to the City/County.

It sounds like the Durham Y organization is behind the 8 ball. We've heard for years about its deficits & periodic land sales near Camp Kanata, to fund shortfalls. The public trust isn't there. Without it, the Y will never gain the credibility it needs. If this is the case, then the Y will continue to struggle in this community. It doesn't have to be, if the Y will stop advocating the art of spin, and learn how to work well with the community it so desperately needs.

M. Sugg

Michael Bacon

The YMCA's leadership just continues to be infuriating. I've tried to give them the benefit of the doubt on this, but it's getting awfully hard. Now they want to close Seminary St? What an astronomically stupid idea!

I enjoy my Y membership quite a bit -- it's one of the few places one can play basketball during the winter, and I'm in a Tai Chi class right now that I like an awful lot. That said, I'm considering canceling my membership over this.

The Lakewood Y is hurting -- I can see that. But the grotesque officiousness from Y leadership makes me ill.


I can't get into the Herald-Sun to read the article online, but I've heard enough over the years to be able to guess what it says pretty well, and to interpret the spin. Triangle Y, which might as well be Raleigh Y for all they care about Durham, will undoubtedly close the facility; they are just trying to draw out the process long enough that people get bored with it or tired of fighting.

This is roughly the same tactic they took a few years back, when, after the takeover, the Triangle Y board decided they would not honor the Durham Y tradition of accepting gay and lesbian partners as family members. If I recall, it led to their losing a lucrative contract with Duke, aside from the stink of homophobic discrimination that was emitted. Yet, in the end, there's still been no real movement toward inclusion.

The cold and hard of it is, Triangle Y is a bunch of conservative Raleigh stuffed shirts with little real regard for the needs or desires of the communities they purport to serve. Poor brown people? too bad: if you can't pay the mega-fees AND pony up more cash to fix their building for them, then you lose. It's a classic pressure technique. And in this case, it will probably result in a cushy new $100-a-month Y across from Southpoint (nowhere near a bus stop), another vacant, crumbling eyesore in Lakewood, and a bunch of kids playing in the street somewhere for lack of a gym.

Is it any wonder there's such a divide between Durham and Raleigh, after shining examples like this?

Luther Blissett

What confuses me about all this is that I thought the Y was a community organization, not a business, yet they are behaving like a business and not a community organization. If they were a private health club doing a market study, I could understand the business decisions about pursuing more affluent markets. But I thought the Y was much more than that. They've now convinced me otherwise.

Perhaps it's better that they do go, and for the community to focus on trying to find some other owner/tenants for that space that will do something productive with it for the surrounding neighborhoods. It sounds like it's too late to count on the Y to do the right thing anymore.


I apologize I could not make the meeting last night (I was still in class at 6 pm - inconvenient meeting time intentional?), and also that I have not kept up with all of the details of what feels like a conspiracy. But I am really bummed out that all of this is going on. I learned how to swim in the Lakewood YMCA pool; do gymnastic in the now closed gym; and play volleyball where they now play basketball. Presently, I play racquetball on the racquetball courts, and appreciate this a great deal since it is a challenge to find racquetball courts anymore. I feel like the Triangle Y folks talk about Lakewood like it is already dead - but it is NOT! It is still very much alive, even if it is not in its heyday at the moment. I just shudder to think of what will happen to the surrounding community if it closes (which it sounds like is the top priority of the Triangle Y, masked in smiles & mention of an unknown Savior Third Party which will likely never take form).


Why is the world would the Downtown Y think that they could or should close Seminary St?
That's just idiotic. And excuse me, but if you are utilizing the services of the YMCA, as I was before going overseas, I don't think it's too much to ask to park one street over and walk your fat a** up to the door. There is plenty of parking there already for the differently abled, elderly, and Pw/K.

I'm still angry that there is no entrace on the loop and that they never replaced the juice bar that was there. Hey- need money- re-open the juice bar inside the downtown Y.

Frank Hyman

If I remember right, YMCA stands for Young Men's Christian Assocition. In terms of closing an inner-city Y, does it make sense to ask the board "What would Jesus do?"

Mike Woodard

The City has not "blessed" a proposal to close Seminary Street.

Mike Woodard


Thank you, Mike.


You know, I never ask myself "What would Jesus do?" but I often ask myself, "What would Mike Woodard do?"

M. Sugg, I am sorry I was unable to lend some solidarity the night of this meeting and I confess the descriptions of it makes me queasy. The YMCA has always been like this -- they rank right up there with the Red Cross in terms of conservative, pro-white boy, pro-business (or "fundraising above all") policies and always have. What is going on with Lakewood now reminds of the Y in Raleigh in the 70's and 80's, when all those business leaders on their board figured out they were sitting on real estate gold mines in some places and, even more attractive to them, offered opportunites for them to make a few personal big bucks in the process.

I'll tell you this: I hope we will all keep a close eye out on who makes money out of any deal they forge for that building vs. who sits on their various boards.

I dream of finding a neighborhood-based group -- or creating one -- to open an alternate facility like the Y, then writing all the YMCA big donors and shaming them into sending their contributions to the neighborhood group instead. Economic guerilla warfare is the nest big thing. Who's in?

Finally, the thread comments on this matter impress the crap out of me: why aren't WE running the Herald-Sun, I ask you?!

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