The Midtown YWCA began charging for parking this month — a change that’s riled some members, including two who say they were suspended from the south Minneapolis gym for speaking out against it.

Dick Taylor and Doris Overby had their memberships canceled on Oct. 26, the latest development in a dispute that’s been brewing since August when the YWCA sent members a letter saying it would be eliminating free parking in an effort to curb abuse of its lot by nonmembers.

Taylor and Overby say they were pushing YWCA management to hold a forum on the topic for members, and Overby started circulating a petition, only to be ushered off the property. YWCA officials say Taylor and Overby violated the YWCA’s code of conduct by harassing members and staff, and ended their memberships when they declined multiple invitations to meet in person to find a resolution.

“I talk to people all the time and people are upset about this,” said Overby, a YWCA member for six years. “The gym is like a second home for me. My quality of life has changed big time because I can’t go to the gym.”

Other members have said they fear a similar reprisal if they object to the paid parking or other operational decisions.

“When Doris told me they had been suspended I was like, ‘Holy cow! What country do we live in?’ ” Martha Dunn, a YWCA member, wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune.

In announcing the plans for paid parking earlier this year, YWCA President and CEO Luz María Frías said it would cost about $200,000 to install a gate system for the 178-space lot at 2121 E. Lake Street, which was being used by nonmembers.

Members who want to park there will be charged $10 to $15 a month for unlimited parking or a nominal fee per visit.

Taylor said he never had trouble finding a spot to park in the lot before and questioned whether the YWCA is just charging to raise revenue. Paying for the monthly parking is about a 20 percent increase to the cost of his gym membership, he said.

And, he said, there’s nothing to prevent nonmembers from using the lot now if they’re willing to pay.

“It’s like a house with a ‘Beware of dog’ sign,” Taylor said. “You soon realize there is no dog. All you need is a credit card.”

Colleen Wigg, the YWCA’s chief operating officer, said previous efforts to police the lot against unauthorized parking, including hanging tags for members, had failed. The paid parking is expected to be a better deterrent, she said.

“People will see that it is a private and monitored lot and park elsewhere,” she said. “The pay parking gate is a tested system that has worked well with our other two locations, Downtown and Uptown, for years.”

The parking fees will pay for the installation and maintenance, plus lot upkeep, such as resurfacing and snow removal that “have been a large operational expense,” said Midtown YWCA General Manager Alex Aguilar.

The YWCA owns most of the lot and operates it through an agreement with Minneapolis Public Schools, which owns about a third of it and recently opened a new adult education center there. The district will not receive money from the paid lot, said spokesman Dirk Tedmon.

Wigg said the YWCA cannot offer an open forum on “operational decisions” such as parking and did its best to inform members of the change, including a Q & A on its website to “communicate exactly how this will affect members.”

Still, Taylor and Overby decried the lack of member involvement and disagreed that they violated the code of conduct by circulating a petition.

Aguilar said that YWCA leadership has invited Overby and Taylor to three meetings and corresponded with them in hopes of resolving their issues, “without success.”

 

Correction: A previous version incorrectly identified a YWCA member suspended for speaking out against paid parking. His name is Dick Taylor.