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Plans for YMCA in Bethel Park spawn protest

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Operators of a Bethel Park fitness club aren't happy that the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh plans to move in nearby, because they worry the competition will have the added advantage of being tax-exempt.

Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness, through attorney Robert Xides, asked Bethel Park Council on Monday not to grant the YMCA zoning approvals to run a fitness club in the Blade Runners ice rink complex off Church Road, and, if possible, to deny them tax-exempt status on the property.

The Y plans to convert most of the building to a $13.8 million replacement for its longtime Upper St. Clair location. One of Blade Runners' two ice rinks would be retained for youth, high school and recreational hockey leagues.

“What we object to is an unequal playing field,” said Xides, a partner at the Downtown law firm of Wiesel Xides & Foerster. “They're going to be providing the same services as us, but they won't have to be paying real estate tax.

“Healthtrax is not against the YMCA, and does not in any way question their programs. ... What they do question is why there needs to be a tax-exempt facility in Bethel Park to provide those services.”

Deb Moore Ellsworth, spokeswoman for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, said the federal and Allegheny County governments acknowledge the Y is nonprofit.

“All of our locations are part of the association and are therefore tax-exempt,” she said.

The YMCA has 19 locations around Western Pennsylvania, including the South Hills YMCA in Upper St. Clair that would be replaced by the new Spencer Family YMCA in Bethel Park.

Healthtrax, on Higbee Drive less than two miles from the proposed Y, pays nearly $200,000 a year in real estate taxes, Xides said.

The company, based in Glastonbury, Conn., has 19 locations in New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina. Bethel Park is its only Pennsylvania location.

“Many Ys now operate their fitness centers more like a business than a charity,” said Kevin Sanker, vice president for operations at Healthtrax and executive director of the Bethel Park location. “Selling adult fitness is a business. Selling subsidized fitness to adults who can pay their own membership fees challenges the purpose of tax exemption.

“They do a lot of great things,” Sanker said. “They can come into the market — we just want them to pay their fair share of taxes like any private business would.”

Council could vote on matters related to the project at its Nov. 11 meeting. Moore Ellsworth said she was unaware of any other applications or approvals the YMCA would need from Bethel Park to get exemptions from local and school property taxes.

The new YMCA is to feature a gymnasium, indoor swimming pool and fitness and wellness facilities. The organization has said the conversion could begin next year or in 2015.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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