GUEST COLUMN: Sale of Orillia YMCA, Geneva Park ‘leaves bad taste’


Longtime YMCA user, supporter questions organization’s decision to sell local assets and invest profits outside community

The following is a guest column by Doug Lewis, former federal cabinet minister and local lawyer.
I read with interest the recent article on the sale of Geneva Park by the YMCA Simcoe-Muskoka. A year ago I read an article about the sale of the Orillia YMCA.

Both articles raise the question: what happens to the net proceeds when a community-serving nonprofit (Orillia) sells its assets and leaves the community?

First, let’s look at the story. I re-read parts of David Town’s excellent book, Building Character: Stories of Orillias Remarkable YMCA 1872-1955.

When I arrived in Orillia, I had the personal experience of attending a few Y’s Men dinner meetings. I joined the Y, jogged the indoor track and out, until the new YMCA building was built further north on Peter Street.

Likewise, our family had a relationship with Geneva Park. Our children went to summer day camp. We went to Leacock Associates dances and dinners at the Geneva Lodge. I have supported various fundraising initiatives over the years.

The buildings of the YMCA and the association as well as Geneva Park were an “institution” for the citizens of Orillia and the region.

In 2013-2014, there was controversy over whether a new recreation center should be built east or west of Highway 11. In order to strengthen rather than “empty” the center of the town, I was among those supporting a recreation center in the east. from Highway 11.

We fought the good fight and the Orillia City Council from 2014-2018 decided to build the Orillia Recreation Center (ORC) on West Street. Unfortunately, Orillia could not support two of these facilities and the Orillia YMCA closed.

This ORC is now built and working. His debut was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over time, I am confident it will serve as an active fitness and community activity center for people in Orillia, Oro-Medonte, Ramara and Severn.

The Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA looks quite grand. These are two very large areas. When you dig there, only the following communities are serviced: Barrie/Innisfil, Midland, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach. The YMCA Muskoka includes a facility in Gravenhurst.

On August 6, 2020, YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong told a story of doom in an article about the closure of the Barrie YMCA. But in the article, he announced plans for a new facility, including “a full gym and pool plus fitness space, multi-purpose rooms, youth center, transitional housing for young people and a nursery”. Taxpayers in Barrie and Innisfil were taken care of.

By January 25, 2022, things had cleared up considerably. Jill Tettmann, current CEO of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, commenting on the construction of a $50 million development in downtown Barrie, said, “We are committed to building a downtown and are open to exploring all options for supporting the community we serve. to build health and strength for generations to come.

That says it all.

As the ratepayers of Orillia built a facility (ORC) to build “health and strength for generations to come” and opened it up to ratepayers in surrounding communities, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka is “committed to building a downtown” in Barrie.

Back to the question: what happens to the net proceeds when a community-serving nonprofit (Orillia) sells its assets and leaves the community? I was talking about the sale by the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka of the YMCA facilities in Orillia, which has been completed, and the impending sale of Geneva Park.

Let’s follow the final resting place of proceeds from the Orillia YMCA property since this sale was completed.

Land registry office records indicate the property sold on May 17, 2021 for $2.9 million. There were no charges on the title.

The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s annual consolidated financial statements dated June 30, 2021 indicate on page 4 that there was a “gain on sale of capital assets in the amount of $4,034,000 for the year ended on June 30, 2021”. It is safe to say that $2.9 million of this amount came from the sale of the YMCA of Orillia.

The financial statements of a not-for-profit organization like the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka are the product of the board of directors. They designate where the funds end up.

The website says there are 16 directors, but only 14 are named, with no indication of the region they represent or where they live. I’m sure they’re all well-meaning people.

The website contains the following quotes:

“More than ever, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Board of Directors is committed to building a new type of Y in downtown Barrie a community center where everyone belongs and can thrive. We truly believe this is the Y we need for the Barrie we want.

I do not agree.

Where is the equity in taking funds raised from a county and district Simcoe and Muskoka, and specifically the communities of Gravenhurst, Midland, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, plus Orillia, which contributed $2.9 million and use the funds to build a $50 million YMCA in downtown Barrie?

As I understand it, funding for this facility comes from the following sources: Province of Ontario ($29.9 million), 100 Reasons Y fundraising campaign ($5.5 million), sale of old site Y on Grove Street ($4.5 million), Simcoe County ($2.5 million), City of Barrie matching funds ($2.5 million), not yet funded (7, $6 million).

But do not worry. There will still be funds from the sale of Geneva Park. The province, county and citizens of Orillia can be proud of their support for “the Y we need for the Barrie we want”. With a population of 31,000, they contributed $2.9 million, while the City of Barrie and its citizens (148,000) contributed $8 million.

The initials YMCA originally stood for Young Men’s Christian Association. While what the administrators have done is perfectly legal, is this the Christian way of doing things? Wouldn’t the Christian way of doing things be for the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka to donate the $2.9 million to the City of Orillia as a contribution towards the costs of the CRO?

Thus, the current and future citizens of Orillia would benefit, just as the citizens of Barrie are about to benefit.

Submissions from others would be great, as well as a response from the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka.

I’m not one to normally suggest government intervention, but this situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this should be considered to prevent this kind of thing from happening again in the future.


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