Brighton, N.Y. (WROC) — It was just a few months after the start of the pandemic and Josh Weinstein was standing alone inside the 200,000 sq. ft. Jewish Community Center on Edgewood Avenue.
A sad sight with an even grimmer outlook.
Weinstein didn’t know if the JCC would survive the pandemic.
Two years later, the JCC is bustling again.
Campers run around outside, folks are working out in the fitness center and pool and people come for various forms of entertainment.
Things appear to be returning to normal, but Weinstein said in a recent interview with Adam Chodak that he’s pushing for something different than the old normal.
He says they’re inviting non-profits, companies and community groups to consider stationing themselves inside the facility, a move that could deliver to the JCC more revenue and the visitors more offerings.
Here’s what Adam and Weinstein talked about:
Adam Chodak: You have the JCC. It was hurting. The last 2 years have been tough. What does it feel like now?
Josh Weinstein: Last time we spoke I think it was right after the pandemic had started and as a not-for-profit where your revenue streams are reliant on people showing up we were in real jeopardy of some financial challenges. We’ve taken the last 2.5 years to realign, double down on our mission and figure out a path forward that’s going to allow us to continue to be a vibrant community center for years to come.
AC: I just went in there and people were entering and they’re back to a certain degree…
JW: To a certain degree. In some area s people aren’t comfortable congregating, but we’ve got our Jewish Film Festival going on right now, people are attending 20 movies over the course of the week, we’ve got our fitness center where people are coming back and doing fitness albeit differently. Our child care, people are back. Staffing has become a challenge, which you’ve probably heard a lot about, but we’ve got about 70 people on a wait list where people can come and put their children in their child care classes so we’re expanding as quickly as we possibly can by scaling those programs. We have a vibrant camping program going on both here at the campus, but also at Camp Seneca Lake and we’ve also welcomed 130 kids from the Encompass program in the city so right now there are 130 city school district kids K through 6th grade doing summer learning and enrichment right here on the campus so, yes, there’s a lot going on again, but at the same time, coming out of the pandemic we realize that 1200 Edgewood, which is the JCC, which is a 200,000 sq ft building and these 115 acres of land, it’s a lot to cover with membership dues and program dues and donations. And so what we’ve learned through the pandemic is that we can open up this campus to all sorts of community partnerships, offer them the opportunity to come into our building and leverage our land and that’s going to help us cover some of the infrastructure costs so we can run our mission-based JCC right here at 1200 Edgewood.
AC: What does it feel like to see activity again?
JW: It feels so great. I think when you and I were here the last time, we were alone in the 200,000 sq. ft building, we walked the whole building, it was eerie. This building, this 50-year-old building, is meant to be thriving with people, enriching lives. And I grew up here. I spent my entire life here, it feels great, people walk in and they give us a little bit more of the benefit of the doubt coming out of the pandemic which is nice, they’re thrilled to be here, they’re thrilled to be making community connections here. And now we have a plan to build more community even and we’re excited to be embarking on it.
AC: Your goal has evolved and it’s not just bringing the J back to what it was, but bringing it in a different direction…
JW: Consumer trends have definitely changed coming out of the pandemic. We were talking about people coming back to the center. The fitness industry in particular has changed pretty significantly. 100,000 sq. ft. of this building had been dedicated to fitness and wellness and what we’re seeing is 1 in 4 fitness facilities has actually closed already in New York State. You think about, I’m not going to list of the local ones, but there have been some pain points locally and nationally for sure, it’s because trends in fitness have changed, people aren’t as comfortable gathering, people are doing things at home and so one of the things that we’ve been looking at is how can we reimagine fitness and wellness as part of this campus and right size our community, right size our JCC. We don’t need 200,000 sq. ft. to live our mission-based businesses: early education, camping, wellness, arts and culture. We can do it in a smaller footprint, but do it really well and so the goal right now is maximize our mission-based businesses in a smaller footprint and surround ourselves with all sorts of amazing enrichment programs, services, companies, not-for-profits, that want to be synergistic with a thriving JCC here on campus.
AC: You’re on the canal. Do you see this as a focal point where you become the center of activity where you draw in services?
JW: One of the benefits of this location, 1200 Edgewood, not only is a 200,000 sq. ft. building, but the JCC owns 150 acres of land that goes down along the canal here. This facility is located between 3 towns, Brighton Henrietta and Pittsford so a great community location right alone the Erie Canal. So what we’re looking to do is we know we’re going to operate a thriving JCC, we want to create a campus that essentially is committed to enrichment and personal growth. So how do we help parents raise their children on this campus? How do we seniors or aging adults live active, healthy supportive lives? And by having a thriving JCC co-existing with all sorts of businesses and non-profits that are in the enrichment and growth arenas we’re going to provide all of these services and all of these programs that help people live healthier, more active lives.
AC: You talk about right sizing the JCC, but the space is the space so what do you do with that extra square footage?
JW: So right now, we’ve announced to the membership, we’ve announced to community organizations and leaders that we are looking for resident partners, neighbors to actually move into the JCC with us. One of the beauties of the pandemic if there were any is we had the opportunity over the last two years to go out to the community and find organizations that were looking for space, that were looking to co-exist. LifeSpan lives in our building right now, they are running an older active adult program from 9-2 every single day, they are the intel inside running senior programming programming. Right here is call called Brickyard CrossFit. That is a separate gym that runs a CrossFit gym within the 200,000 sq. ft. building where the JCC’s health and wellness department exists.
AC: And your sell is, listen, you come here you’re not in your own silo, you’re suddenly drawing from a group that might have come to see someone else here…
JW: Imagine parents right now who have all these demands on their time, imagine coming to one campus, where you can drop your kid off for an educational opportunity while you work out. You could have a meeting here. You could come here to work if there’s a co-work location. Ultimately, there could be residential on our land. Imagine living on a community where you have all this enrichment. Educational opportunities. We run a school. We currently have Encompass spending 5 weeks here. 130 inner city children doing summer learning here. What other educational opportunities can we have here? Can we bring another school here? Can we bring a dance academy? A performing arts academy? A cooking school? So looking at all of these academic or intellectual opportunities, health and wellness, we obviously have health and wellness services, how do we provide additional services through third parties, nutrition, it could be massage therapy, physical therapy, the sky is the limit when it comes to getting together with the JCC on this campus to create meaningful opportunities.
AC: So what’s the timeline on this. Has it already started?
JW: We have half dozen partners that have already moved into the JCC campus. Now we formalize the strategy. We have to know what areas of the building will be available for 3rd parties, we know that we have 115 acres of land that’s available for development. We have a real estate broker that has been hired and is out talking to 3rd parties, the community organizations, not-for-profits, companies that might be coming and co-existing on this canalside community campus. That process is well underway. We’re giving tours literally by the day, we’re walking the spaces, we’re talking about partnership. Over the summer we hope to have our first couple major partners that are announcing that they want to join the next couple of months.
AC: So how does this work with membership because someone might want to come in and patronize one particular program or service?
JW: I think it’s going to be specific to the opportunities. There are going to be JCC programs and services that you can pay for, some of our 3rd parties like our Brickyard CrossFit, and then there will be opportunities where membership can be defined, whether it’s just JCC membership or whether it’s JCC membership combined with some of the other programs and services that we’ll offer in partnership.
AC: This starting here, but you’re starting to get calls from other JCCs across the country…
JW: It’s interesting. We met with other JCC executives in early April and they asked the JCC executives to bring ideas of innovation from your community and I mentioned we’re going create a community campus, no JCC in the country is doing this yet. In the 70s and 80s, fitness was the draw to bring people into a JCC. In my mind, community collaboration is the model that brings people onto a campus and then engage with a thriving JCC.
AC: What types of things are you exploring when it comes to expansion?
JW: The JCC is committed to his core pillars: early education, camping, arts and culture and wellness. We’re always looking for creative ideas about how to expand those 4 areas. Just out over here, during the pandemic, we formed an outdoor performing arts venu. Right now, it’s a temporary structure. We houses dozens of shows last summer, we have about the same this summer, all sorts of community partnerships, whether it was the RPO, Blackfriars Theatre, will be back here again this year in addition to JCC concerts and JCC plays, so we’ve been looking to do all sorts of innovative new programs and ultimately build them into the campus. How do we build a day camp opportunity and build it into the campus? How do we leverage the canal in partnership with the Town of Henrietta and New York State Waterway Revitalization to build a boathouse and access to the canal right here on the property? How do we this temporary performing arts venue a permanent performing arts venue that houses all sorts of great content right here along the Erie Canal? So those are some of things we’re exploring for expansion on the land. There might be residential opportunities whether it’s affordable housing, single-unit complexes, family complexes onto this property so they can engage with this new community campus.
AC: Why do this right now?
JW: I think first and foremost coming out of the pandemic there was an opportunity to reimagine. We already knew we had a great facility, we already knew we had 115 acres of land. We were starting to scratch our head, what could this become, bringing community together in a unique way, finding new meaningful ways to enrich people’s lives whether it’s families or active adults is going to be important coming out of the pandemic, leveraging some of the new trends that people are doing out of the pandemic. At the end of the day, the facility, 200,000 square feet, 115 acres of land, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of carry the overhead costs of this much space, this much building and when you’re reliant on trying to create programs, trying to raise funds from donors that are going to cover this much overhead, it’s not an easy task and so essentially if we can operate a thriving JCC, mission based that does our 4 core areas within this campus and then leverage the property and the beautiful building and location to bring 3rd parties that we can monetize through rent or partnerships, then we’re going to be able to create a business model that’s going to enable us to sustain for the long haul.