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YMCA selling Falls branch to Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission

NIAGARA FALLS – YMCA Buffalo Niagara on Tuesday announced that it has reached a deal to sell its Portage Road branch to the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, which operates a homeless shelter in the city.

The YMCA, which has said it has been losing about $450,000 annually at the site for the last five or six years, said that it will cease its operations in the building May 31. YMCA officials have said they plan to continue many programs in the area despite the organization not having its own facility, just as it has done in Depew and Lancaster where programming exists without a branch.

“The Y recognizes and appreciates the passion of citizens who have rallied in support of the branch, but the Y reassures the community that it is committed to it and will continue to provide services to Niagara Falls,” Olin B. “Buddy” Campbell Jr., president and CEO, said in a statement. “We feel the Rescue Mission has a good and viable plan for the reuse of the building for the greater good of the community.”

A YMCA spokeswoman said the sale price was $1 for the 50,000-square-foot building, which is what rescue mission officials had proposed.

The sale is expected to close in about 60 days, YMCA officials said.

Officials from the rescue mission, which currently operates a 4,000-square-foot facility at 1023 Ferry Ave., laid out their proposal for the site during a public forum in February. They described it as the “same model, scaled up.”

The nonprofit plans to shift its operations to the new site and add two beds to its emergency men’s shelter, as well as take on the more than 50 single-room occupancy spaces that the YMCA had operated. The mission runs a daily meal program for men, women and children and a 16-bed emergency shelter for men, along with an eight-bed Christian ministry program.

D. Shaun Smith, the mission’s executive director, said plans have crystallized a little further since the February forum, when he had mentioned the organization’s desire to expand services, including more for women and children. On Tuesday, he said the mission plans to eventually add services for more people in the community, including athletic programs for area youth in the facility’s gymnasium.

Smith said renovation work will begin soon on the single-room-occupancy portion of the property.

“We’re excited about what we can do,” he said. “We really want to bring a state-of-the-art facility to the city.”

The mission, which bought its Ferry Avenue property in 2010, ran into some challenges over its use after some neighbors raised objections with the city.

The Niagara Falls YMCA, which had previously been a separate entity, merged with YMCA Buffalo Niagara in 2005.

Joseph P. Heasley, of Chilton Avenue, who addressed city lawmakers Monday night, said he has been a YMCA member for 20 years. He echoed the concern of many who have spoken out in recent weeks, saying he expects that the loss of the YMCA would hurt young people in the area by taking away things for them to do.

“The North End has been hurting for decades,” Heasley said. “A facility with athletic equipment use and programs conducted by trained professionals that is within walking distance of the homes of many of the young people using it has made all the difference.”

email: abesecker@buffnews.com