St. Paul, Sabes JCCs Heading Into New Era

The Sabes and St. Paul JCCs have come a long way from the days of not being able to use your membership to one building at the other. From those days to three years of celebratory parties, shared staff and programming, the two agencies are entering into new era starting on Jan. 1, 2019.

The boards of the Sabes and St. Paul JCCs voted to enter into a two-year management agreement for the two agencies to be run by a single CEO. St. Paul JCC’s Michael Waldman will lead the endeavor while committees start exploring how the JCCs can best work together for the benefit of the Twin Cities Jewish community for the long term, and assess the possibility and potential of a combined Twin Cities JCC with two campuses.

The discussions of each of the boards to take this step has been ongoing through most of the year. As part of the decision, Sabes JCC CEO Joshua Wert will step down as part of the agreement.

“It’s bittersweet,” Wert said. “I’m really excited because this is the exact path the JCCs should be on. I, in partnership with the board, in partnership with St. Paul and with Michael, we created this perfect pathway. I couldn’t be more proud and excited.”

Wert said the successful relationship with Waldman is what made this step possible.

“If it doesn’t start at the top and come down, it won’t happen,” Wert said. “If it starts at the board and goes up it won’t work, and if it gets delegated to mid-level staff it won’t work. The CEOs had to have skin in the game. When looking at change management and [mergers and acquisitions] best practices, CEOs have to be very vested and involved to get results.”

Once the management agreement starts, a steering committee will help decide what happens next on several fronts – including merging or not.

“Does it make sense to have one entity with two branches? It’s not a foregone conclusion,” Waldman said. “There’s a lot of due diligence that has to happen. We’re trying hard to not have a preconceived notion of what the best outcome is.

“But we are never going back to the time when we aren’t collaborating.”

Another area that the steering committee will be discussing is a real estate plan going forward. While the plan in St. Paul has been decided with the $15 million renovation of the Highland facility, the Sabes JCC building and the Barry Family Campus it sits on is owned by the Jewish Community Building Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. The Sabes JCC has a three-year lease with the Federation to give the organizations time to see where the programming should take place.

“The question is where should the western programs be held? That steering committee will determine where they should be held. It may or may not be on this campus,” Wert said. “It’s hard to imagine moving, but we are – from day one – exploring in parallel a plan that includes moving. Does the JCC on the Barry Family Campus make sense? We aren’t locked into one solution at the moment.”

Said Waldman: “The whole campus has never been profitable. It’s unsustainable. There’s not enough rentable space.”

Federation CEO Jim Cohen said that the Sabes JCC will continue to exist as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit with its own board.

“Our tenant is the Sabes JCC, who in turn hires the St. Paul JCC to run the day-to-day operations of the JCC,” Cohen said. “We see this as an important step towards what we hope will eventually be a full integration of the enterprises, and hopefully will be a merged entity; that is the ultimate goal.

“In the short term, it will reduce expenses and will get us on the path for looking for what exactly the JCC and Barry Family Campus will need to look like moving forward. I’m excited for the St. Paul JCC, as the operator, to be our full partner in determining what is needed.”

Wert said that after he took charge at Sabes, Wert and the board went through the process of looking at the JCC as a building as well as a set of programs.

“The board thought it was a building so we served the building,” he said. “Instead, what the board figured out, was we’re a set of programs that use a building to execute. It was a big mental shift for the board.

Wert said other JCCs need to go through that change in mindset.

“A lot of JCCs still define themselves by their real estate instead of impact they have,” he said. “The real estate should reflect the programmatic needs. St. Paul rebuilt their building and allows them to elevate their programming.”