Tentative Deal to Save Valley Cities JCC

The Valley Cities Jewish Community Center received a new lease on life late last week when its parent organization agreed in principle to sell the center property to a local partnership that will keep the JCC going. Without the agreement, the center could have shut down at the end of June, probably for good.

The parent organization, which is called the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, said it would accept a $2.7 million bid for the Sherman Oaks property.

The condition for this “discounted” price was that any developer must also agree to renovate the JCC building or construct a new facility, insiders said. Four developers are believed to have expressed interest in putting senior housing and a state-of-the-art JCC on the land. A formal purchase offer could materialize by the end of July.

Several sources close to the deal declined comment because of ongoing negotiations.

The parent organization, which has shuttered two local JCCs in recent years, has said it must sell the Valley Cities property to pay off debts.

For more than 50 years, Valley Cities has served as a magnet for San Fernando Valley Jews, a one-stop shop that offers a panoply of services, ranging from nursery school for the young to lectures for seniors. Currently, the center has close to 90 children enrolled in summer camp and is now accepting applications for its fall nursery school and after-school child-care programs. The JCC recently refurbished a teen center to provide a gathering spot for East Valley teens.

A study prepared for the JCC found that the facility sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000 to 40,000 people, including many Persian, Israeli and Russian immigrants. For them and other Jews, JCCs serve as an entry point into local Jewish life.

Like other Los Angeles-area Jewish centers, Valley Cities paid a steep price for financial mismanagement by the parent organization that is now selling the site. To pay off ballooning debts, executives at the parent organization slashed center allocations and eventually shuttered the Bay Cities and Conejo Valley JCCs. The parent organization also twice threatened to close Valley Cities, including as recently as last year.

Valley Cities leaders have worked relentlessly to save the center, which an estimated 1,000 people visit weekly. Those efforts helped secure nearly $650,000 over the past year and a half from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a major benefactor over the years to local JCCs.

After years of threatened closure, a couple of Los Angeles-area JCCs have seen their futures markedly improve.

In late April, the head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, partnered with a Jewish community group operating the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center to buy its property for $2.1 million. The facility had faced an imminent shutdown and the sale of its property out from under it.

And the Westside Jewish Community Center just received a six-figure donation from center alumnus and four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg to reopen the very pool where he trained as a young man. The gift covers the costs of a complete overhaul of the plumbing, filtration and heating systems. The pool, which closed several years ago, is expected to begin offering swimming lessons in early July. (See Westside JCC story online at www.Jewishjournal.com.)

“Nationally, Jewish community centers are thriving,” said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America. Within the next five years, up to 20 new centers could open around the country, including in cities such as Las Vegas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Princeton, N.J., he said. Over the past decade, Finkelstein estimates that $700 million has been spent on building and renovating Jewish centers.

“Construction, development and planning of JCCs is booming all over,” he said.