Gulati looks to Y’s future
Entrepreneur talks about efforts to save facility
“I can see a lot of good things happening, and I’m just happy to be part of it.”
— Charles Gulati, buyer of the YMCA
As plans for his purchase of the YMCA branch on North Adams Street solidify, Charles Gulati has visions of a complex devoted to fitness, athletics and wellness.
It was announced May 23 that Gulati will purchase the building and lease part of it back to the Y as a tenant.
The announcement came in the midst of two months of community protests and activism aimed at reversing the decision by the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA to close the Pottstown branch on June 30.
Although the two have parties not legally closed on the purchase — or even finalized a price for that matter — the Y will stay open and operating through June 30 until the purchase is complete and has agreed on a five-year lease, with an option to renew for another five, according to Gulati.
In an hour-long interview in the Gatsby’s section of the Sunnybrook Ballroom, which his family operates, Gulati told the story of how he got involved in the deal that saved the local Y.
“I grew up playing at the Y in Phoenixville. In fact, I still remember getting stuck in one of the hallways there,” Gulati said with a laugh.
His children learned to swim at the YMCA “and my son met his best friend at the Y here in Pottstown. It’s such an asset to Pottstown, the community needs it.”
A resident of Gilbertsville, Gulati said he has been a member of the Pottstown Y for many years “because it was convenient, although I probably didn’t go as often as I should,” he joked.
When he found out about the
closure, Gulati said he went down to Conshohocken, where the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA has its headquarters, “and I kind of introduced myself and said I might be interested in buying the building.”
But he was only interested if the Y programs remain there, Gulati said.
“So there was kind of a lull for a while, and that was mostly due to me. I had a team come in and look at the building, and it really does need the work they say. It looks OK out front, but behind the walls, that’s where the problems are.”
Whatever repairs are to be undertaken, they will be done in phases, said Gulati.
“We’re not going to shut down the Y and try to do everything all at once,” he said.
So much of what the Gulatis do is a family enterprise — his father is founder of the military and aerospace manufacturing firm Fidelity Technologies Corp.; and the family also owns the Reading Royals hockey team and both Stokesay Castle and Knight’s Pub near Reading, as well as operating Sunnybrook.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Gulati’s daughter got involved in his consideration of the purchase.
A fifth form student at The Hill School, Gulati said his daughter Alex was undertaking a school business project and she asked him if he was going to go ahead with the Y purchase; because if he was, she would do her project on something else.
“I told her ‘naw, I’m not going to do it.’ And then a few weeks later, I told her ‘honey, I’m sorry but I think I’m going to move ahead with it,’” Gulati said with a chuckle. “So she made me call her teacher and say I had nothing to do with her project.”
What Gulati’s real life project will involve is not firmly set yet.
What he could say is that the YMCA will occupy some of the spaces in the building, and those spaces will be exclusive to Y members.
The north, cold-water pool will remain open and available to YMCA members, although there is no decision yet on the south, warm-water pool, which was closed in September.
In those spaces not occupied by the Y, Gulati hopes to attract athletics coaching and fitness coaches to share spaces where fitness and strength training specific to a sport, and classroom space for “chalk-boarding,” can take place.
“It would be a place to train year-round on workout equipment, they can use the track, for things like baseball, soccer, lacrosse, basketball — all in shared space,” Gulati said.
“I’m even looking into seeing if we can offer some boxing and an aqua-therapy and physical therapy business,” Gulati said. “I want to bring new businesses into town.”
He said having different businesses in the same building as the Y “will allow for a lot of cross-marketing. This can really become a unique facility in our area and bring more people to town.”
“I’m bullish on Pottstown, it’s got good bones, three good access points off the highway, lots of parking, a wide main street, it just seems that every time we start to make some progress, it takes these body blows,” he said, referring in part to the loss of tax revenues when Pottstown Hospital’s properties came off the tax rolls after the purchase by Tower Health.
As a for-profit operation, the 3.16-acre Y property will be on the tax rolls. Had that been the case this year, that would have meant another $54,000 for the borough and nearly $200,000 for the school district.
So far, no public money has been involved in the effort to purchase the building, he said.
Gulati said public officials such as Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Val Arkoosh, state Sen. Bob Mensch, R24th Dist., and state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., were helpful in pushing the deal forward.
But so far, he said, he has not applied for any grants for financing from the state.
Most of all, Gulati said he is happy to have had a hand in keeping a necessary asset in town.
“I can see a lot of good things happening, and I’m just happy to be part of it,” he said.
“I want to bring new businesses into town.” — Charles Gulati, buyer of YMCA
Charles Gulati talks about the future of the YMCA building Friday in the dining room of Gatsby’s, the pub inside Sunnybrook Ballroom.