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YMCA's Corporate Sponsorships Aggravate For-Profits

PITTSBURGH — The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh sold corporate sponsorships and naming rights for parts of its new downtown branch to four corporations — a move that some for-profit club operators say highlights an unlevel playing field.

The $4.2 million downtown Pittsburgh branch will be named the PNC YMCA in honor of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., one of the Y's corporate sponsors. Insurer Highmark Inc. purchased naming rights for the main fitness area. The Y's aquatics area will be named after the Reed Smith LLP law firm. And the facility's lobby will be called the Massaro Welcome Center after contractor Massaro Corp.

Y officials declined to comment on the sponsorships and did not disclose the financial terms or length of the agreements. The 42,000-square-foot facility was scheduled to hold a soft opening on March 29, with a grand opening scheduled for April 24.

When asked if it is common for a YMCA to have numerous named corporate sponsors, Mamie Moore, spokeswoman for the YMCA of the USA, said the national organization does not track that information and that “the naming of a local facility is a local YMCA decision.”

Some nonprofits are operating more like for-profit clubs while enjoying tax breaks, says Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public policy for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).

“We believe that many YMCAs have lost sight of their charitable missions, choosing to focus more on operating profitable fitness centers than on improving underserved communities,” Durkin says. “This unfortunate trend seems to be increasing. Nonprofit status provides YMCAs with an enormous advantage over taxpaying fitness centers.”

Advantages include exemption from property taxes plus tax-deductible donations from corporate sponsors, she says.

One club operator says that the Pittsburgh YMCA also is providing a tax deduction to its corporate backers.

“PNC Financial Group, Highmark Inc., Massaro Corp. and Reed Smith LLP will pay less income tax in order to support the Pittsburgh YMCA,” says Rodney Steven II, owner of the Genesis Health Club chain based in Wichita, KS. “While taxpaying clubs continue to see their amount of taxation increase, one of their major competitors continues to have an unfair advantage through the tax system.”

As part of the move, the Y closed its Boulevard of the Allies location in downtown Pittsburgh, where it operated for more than 20 years.

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