Ira Besdanski, CEO of YMCA Middletown, which includes facilities in Monroe and Monticello, made an appearance at the Sullivan County Government Center on May 3 to help lawmakers get a clearer picture of the nature of the organization.
Controversy had arisen last year when Chancellor Livingston, the company that was going to develop a big box store project at the Apollo Plaza site, agreed to set aside an acre of the project and the existing movie theater as space for a nonprofit, specifically the Sullivan County YMCA.
The owner of the Monticello Fitness Center, Mike Dollard, and his supporters had criticized the deal because they said it would give the nonprofit facility an advantage over his profit paying business.
At the meeting, Besdansky said that the YMCA is much more than a “gym.” He said, “We invented fitness, we invented basketball and volleyball, and we brought the Boy Scouts to this country.” He said the organization invented Father’s Day and was the first organization to teach English as a second language in this country.
He said that many companies, like Disney World in Florida, invite the organization to set up shop near them because it provides fitness activities and day care; Besdansky said the YMCA is by far the largest day care provider in the United States.
But with Chancellor Livingston pulling out of the deal to market the Apollo Plaza and landfill properties, the YMCA is no longer pursuing the site as a facility location. The organization received a $500,000 grant from Senator Bonacic to help pay for a Sullivan County facility, but the organization may now use that to help finance a 155-acre environmental site in Rock Hill that will feature nature trails and various kinds of environmental educational programs.
Asked if another location became available, whether the YMCA would still be interested in building a facility here, Besdansky answered that the location would have to be perfect because there is not enough population in the county to support a stand-alone YMCA facility. Linda Cellini, development director of organization, said she is still working toward getting a YMCA facility in Sullivan County.
While the YMCA is no longer interested in the Apollo Plaza site, the company called Carbon Harvest is moving forward with plans to open a facility at the closed county landfill. Alan Scott, CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership of Economic Development, said he had scheduled a site visit for the next day.
The company will grow tomatoes and other vegetables in greenhouses, and will raise tilapia fish. The project will be powered by gas generated by the decomposing garbage in the landfill.
Scott said Carbon Harvest is still excited about the project and may hire up to 100 employees once it’s up and running.