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Falls urged to save YMCA on Portage Road

NIAGARA FALLS – A group called on city leaders on Monday to help save the YMCA on Portage Road.

About 30 people came to the City Council meeting in City Hall asking for help, as YMCA Buffalo Niagara moves ahead with plans to shut down the branch. The organization has said that although the facility will be closing, it will continue to run some of its programs at various sites in the area.

“What’s getting left behind is the membership services,” said Elisa Nelson-David, spokesperson for the “Save the YMCA” group.

The facility, which has been in operation more than 100 years, has roughly 50,000 square feet of space that includes a swimming pool.

Anthony Casilio of the Town of Niagara, a board member of the Portage Road branch along with Nelson-David, called for political pressure to be brought on the larger organization that he said appears to think the facility is not needed.

“It does have financial issues,” Casilio said, “but with some support from this administration, I think maybe we can make them think twice.”

Casilio said the group has a petition to save the facility with more than 300 signatures.

“The YMCA is a tremendous asset,” he said.

At a public forum last month, YMCA Buffalo Niagara CEO Olin B. “Buddy” Campbell Jr. said the facility has been losing roughly $450,000 per year over the past five or six years.

The Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, a Ferry Avenue homeless shelter, has been in talks with the YMCA about taking over the property.

In another matter, the Council rejected a request from Mayor Paul A. Dyster to hire two temporary workers for six months to undertake an education and enforcement effort related to the city’s garbage and recycling program.

The proposal, which was originally made in January and put on hold by lawmakers, would cost $42,470 and be paid for with casino revenue.

The measure failed, with Councilmen Robert A. Anderson Jr., Glenn A. Choolokian and Charles A. Walker voting against it.

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma, who voted for the measure with Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti, called the situation “very frustrating.”

Touma said he’s been told by Department of Public Works acting Director John Caso that the department does not have the resources to take on the work at this point.

The program, which involved the distribution of 64- and 96-gallon totes last summer, needs this component, Touma said. It will provide quality-of-life benefits, especially for neighbors of residents who run afoul of garbage rules, he said.

“Without these two employees, it’s not going to be as successful as it can be,” he said.