The YWCA may move forward with selling its building overlooking the Spokane River without putting the matter before members for a vote.
The nonprofit organization’s executive director said recently that a new look at the state law governing nonprofit corporations may show that the board of directors – not members – make decisions about capital assets, including buildings.
“We’re not positive we have to have a second vote,” said Monica Walters, the executive director. “If in fact the law states that it’s the authority of the board, we have to follow that too. It’s not fair for the potential buyer.”
Members – many of whom are worried about losing the swimming pool and aquatic exercise programs if the building is sold – shot down the idea of selling the building in a vote held Aug. 16. Members also complained that they hadn’t been adequately informed about the YWCA’s plan and questioned whether competitive bids were sought.
“To be able to charge through without a vote is wrong,” said YWCA member Lori Morrisey. “We are not the enemy. We want to support the organization. But we want to see that all needs are met.”
Following the August meeting, Walters said she planned to put out additional information about the proposed property transaction and then hold another vote within six weeks. Though a meeting regarding the aquatic exercise program has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, no meeting has been scheduled yet for another vote, she said.
The YWCA and YMCA want to sell their downtown buildings, pool their proceeds, and launch a capital campaign with a goal of $25 million. That money would be used to purchase downtown property in an undisclosed location for a campus where both nonprofit organizations would construct new buildings and expand their services.
One goal of the co-location is eliminating duplication of services. In the proposed new configuration, the YMCA would host all fitness programs, which most likely would include a swimming pool and aquatic exercise programs, said President and CEO Rig Riggins. The YWCA would focus more on programs that help women and children in at-risk situations, such as domestic violence.
Directors of both nonprofits have said there would be no interruption in services as they make this transition. The current buildings would remain open until the new buildings are ready. Directors of both organizations are saying the plan would take at least three years to execute.
Walters has said concern about losing the pool has overshadowed the main goal of the expansion program, which is to offer more and better services to homeless women and children and to victims of domestic violence. Aquatic exercise programs also are offered by the Salvation Army on Indiana Avenue, she said.
However, many women and men who rely on the YWCA’s water exercise programs have said they’re scared of losing them. Many have had knee and hip operations and say the warm-water exercise is the only thing that keeps them moving. They say the YWCA’s pool is bigger than the one at the Salvation Army.
Some members also criticized the YWCA for not allowing men to vote at the August meeting. Walters said that denying male members, called “associates,” voting rights comes from the national organization’s constitution and is supported by a U.S. Supreme Court decision stating that women are a protected class, due to discrimination.
However, Bob Korkus, who uses the YWCA’s exercise programs, said he found that hypocritical for an organization that prides itself on diversity.
“I thought it was pretty discriminatory,” Korkus said.
Walters said SRM Development of Spokane has offered $4 million for the YWCA property at 829 W. Broadway. The YMCA, which overlooks the river in Riverfront Park, put out a request for proposals but has not completed that process yet, Riggins said.
Some members who feel the property is worth more than $4 million have criticized the YWCA for not seeking additional offers. Walters has said she would like to accept SRM’s offer because it allows the YWCA time to build its new building before turning the property over.
However, developer Don Barbieri said property owners can place whatever contingencies they like on a sale and it’s up to buyers to meet them. Barbieri said he has asked the YWCA for the opportunity to bid on its property in the past, but was declined. Though he supports the co-location idea, Barbieri said the only way to judge a property’s true value is to put it out to bid.
“I think you get your best value when you test it competitively,” Barbieri said.