Gu­lati looks to Y’s fu­ture

En­tre­pre­neur talks about ef­forts to save fa­cil­ity

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

“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

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Charles Gu­lati talks about the fu­ture of the YMCA build­ing Fri­day in the din­ing room of Gatsby’s, the pub in­side Sun­ny­brook Ball­room.

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