For over forty years South Miami’s YMCA enjoyed being a thriving center for community where children and adults from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds came together to play sports like soccer, roller hockey, or learn how to swim. However by December 2005 times had changed so the apparently struggling recreation center aligned with the City of South Miami to save the ten acres of land behind David Fairchild Elementary between SW 57 Ave and Palencia Drive. The land was donated by Frank Kerdyk in the late 1950’s.
What began as a promising partnership between the YMCA and the city to save the center has devolved such that the city anticipates filing a law suit by month’s end for breach of lease and non-payment of rent. The deal they made in 2005 was that the city would purchase the land funded in part by an innovative “Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond.”
Mary Scott Russell was mayor when the collaboration with the city and YMCA was set up. “I don’t know what happened between now and then,” said Russell. “This was a partnership with municipalities and county government when collaboration was the word of the day. We worked together for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
Executive Director of Special Olympics for Miami-Dade County Mark Thompson was YMCA’s director from 1993 to 2003. During his tenure, 3 to 4,000 kids played together at the Y over the course of a given year. On Saturdays as many as 1000 kids in about 15 different age divisions played competitive games on the Frank Kerdyk Fields.
“No child would be turned away due to inability to pay,” said Thompson. “We were supported by fundraising activities and those who could pay a surplus to provide for those who could not, did, and that is a true nonprofit venture. Families appreciated that kids got to play with others who didn’t have the same means. It created better understanding and removed stereotypes.”
Former Mayor Julio Robaina Jr. said he is a product of South Miami’s YMCA. “I grew up going to the YMCA,” said Robaina, “I looked forward to it every day. The first Campus Life Haunted House started there back in the woods. We took field trips, had summer camp and kids came from all over. We learned organized sports discipline and it was a positive time with positive role models.”
Robaina eventually served on the Y board and along with Mary Scott Russell and others was instrumental in securing the bond monies that helped purchase the land. He was the district’s state representative in Tallahassee at the time.
“We had a very well connected group of board members,” said Robaina, “and we were able to raise a million dollars in a few months. We just needed a green light. They kept claiming they were doing demographic studies on feasibility (for the new community center) but we felt they had other plans for the property.”
President and C.E.O. of YMCA Greater Miami Alfred Sanchez declined comment for this article through spokeswoman Charlotte Donn. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was born in London in 1844 by George Williams as a place for industry working men to go for spiritual reflection. According to ymcamiami.org, 67.7 million households in the U.S. live within three miles of a YMCA and 2,663 YMCA’s serve more than 20.2 million people each year. The South Dade YMCA at 9355 SW 134 Street is in the midst of a 36,000 feet expansion begun May of 2011.
Mayor Philip Stoddard said he would have preferred to work on a long term plan with the Y before going to court. They owe the city $60,000 for three years of unpaid rent. “If you are going to keep a relationship you don’t start with suing them,” said Stoddard. “The commission as a whole now feels that they breached their side of the agreement and that that needs to get resolved before a renewed relationship. My sense is that the Yis genuinely interested in getting the project going again but how it will be paid for I don’t know.”
The mayor’s understanding, although he acknowledges it may not be totally accurate, is that the secured bonds were contingent on studies commissioned to determine if enough membership revenue could be generated to cover expenses and pay back the bond.
It remains unclear how the $100,000 check to get the 2005 partnership started derailed. “Our county commissioner (at the time) Carlos Gimenez came out for the ribbon cutting,” said Russell, “for this multibillion dollar bond issue and presented a check for $100,000 to little South Miami.” Russell was also President of the Dade League of Cities at the time. “We were on a roll. Timing was right, conditions were good, and we had county support for the acquisition. Nine years later we have a lawsuit and the lawyers get rich.”
Horace Feliu followed Mary Scott Russell as mayor and preceded Phil Stoddard. While he was in office the dilapidated building on the site was razed in preparation for the new building. “We had meetings with neighbors,” said Fileu. “They wanted to make sure we controlled traffic in the area. We worked hard to bring the plans together and they seem to have disappeared.”
City Attorney Thomas Pepe said there was a plan in the file. He agreed to email it to South Miami News however it was not received prior to deadline. Mayor Stoddard said the bond issue was declined when Ajibola Balogun was city manager. Calls to Balogun were not returned prior to press time.
Vice Mayor of Coral Gables, William Kerdyk Jr. commented on how his uncle who was also a commissioner in the Gables and worked in real estate might feel about the current state of things with the YMCA and the city. “My uncle would say, ‘it is a sad day when the community loses a place for the children to play.”
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