After backlash to a different plan, Charlotte YMCA sells 2 Lincoln County Ys

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte will sell two Lincoln County branches to the YMCA of Catawba Valley, the nonprofit announced Wednesday, after strong community backlash to a potential sale to a different bidder.

The Lincoln County YMCA in Lincolnton and Sally’s YMCA in Denver will become part of the Catawba Valley YMCA system in the spring of 2024, provided the agreement is approved by the Charlotte YMCA board and Lincoln County board of commissioners, the Charlotte Y said.

The news was “unexpected” for Lincoln County Schools Superintendent Aaron Allen, who was a vocal critic of a rumored sale of the branches to Lincoln Charter Schools. Allen met with Charlotte Y interim president and CEO Gene Johnson in September to express concern after an email he sent to Johnson circulated on social media.

Immediately after that meeting, the organizations led by both men, along with board chairs of the two Lincoln County Ys, said a community task force would be formed and meet “with the intent to have an agreed-upon direction by the end of this year.”

Allen said he had expected a decision to be made in early December after the Charlotte board meets, and was surprised to receive a call this week from Johnson.

“I know that with that (decision) comes the sacrifice of things that could have transpired — meaning money — for the properties,” Allen said. “And I’m glad that he (Johnson) chose this path and this opportunity, because it does impact our community.”

A necessary sale

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but the sale of the two branches will help ease the financial burdens of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, which has been working to rebuild and restructure after steep financial losses in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

Since 2019, Charlotte Y membership is down about 25%. According to the YMCA’s tax records, total revenue was down about 26% from 2019 to 2022. Last year, the YMCA also reported a $5.4 million overall deficit, the first time the nonprofit has reported a loss in recent years. Board chair Charles Bowman has said the Y has had an operating deficit each year since 2020.

To restructure the organization and stabilize finances, the YMCA has focused on improving profitability in four main areas: philanthropy, camping, programs and services, and footprint.

The most noticeable changes have occurred under the footprint heading, and the YMCA of Greater Charlotte announced earlier this year that it had reached an agreement to sell its Johnston branch in NoDa. That deal fell through in September, however. The YMCA is still seeking a buyer for the property.

RELATED: NoDa Y sale is symptom of bigger financial problems at Charlotte’s YMCAr

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte said in August that it was exploring having another YMCA association assume operation of its Lincoln County branches. The Lincolnton branch historically has not been profitable. The two properties have a combined appraised value of $12.4 million, according to Lincoln County records.

Sally’s YMCA in Denver will be acquired by the Catawba Valley YMCA.
Sally’s YMCA in Denver will be acquired by the Catawba Valley YMCA.

Lincoln County Charter bid

Allen, a past Lincoln County Y board chair, expressed concern when he heard Lincoln County Charter Schools might be close to a deal to acquire the branches. The YMCA of Greater Charlotte touts the two branches as the county’s largest child care provider, “serving more than 300 children weekly in our preschool, afterschool, homeschool and camp programs,” and that more than 20,000 people use both facilities annually.

“These branches are, at the core, fundamentally supposed to serve those that need (the) most equitable chances to improve ‘self,’” Allen wrote in an email to Johnson and other YMCA leaders. “The Lincoln Co YMCA acquisition plan is an afterthought from the charter school and with that approach, I am demonstratively disappointed that the spirit of the YMCA has been lost due to the chance to chase a dollar.”

On Wednesday, Allen said he appreciated that the YMCA of Greater Charlotte has reconsidered.

“I do appreciate that (Gene) recognizes that in this opportunity, he’s trying to make a recommendation that is in the best interest of the local community of Lincoln County, and that these Ys have served the community in their capacity,” he said. “To do something different with them would disrupt community service, and community opportunity. And for that, I’m grateful for him.”

In a statement, the Charlotte Y said, “The overwhelming feedback from task force members was that the citizens of Lincoln County want YMCA programs and services to remain in the county. Recognizing the profound impact that the Lincoln County branches have had on their communities, the YMCA of Catawba Valley formally expressed interest in assuming ownership and operational responsibilities for the branches.”

“This is the best outcome we could have hoped for, and a win for all parties involved, from the YMCAs to our members and the citizens of Lincoln County,” Johnson said in the statement. “I’m happy that we arrived at a solution that I’m confident is best for the future of Lincoln County, and I look forward to supporting the transition to YMCA of Catawba Valley.”

A few more hurdles

Before the agreement is finalized, it must be approved by not only the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s board of directors , but also the YMCA of Catawba Valley’s association board of directors and the Lincoln County board of commissioners.

“I’m hoping that Mr. (Gene) Johnson has discussed this with the board, and they’re all in agreement and it’s just going to be a formality,” Allen said. “I’ve got faith that it’s still going to work itself out.”