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Mittleman makes a turnaround

Southwest center rallies to present new look, equipment, programs
by: Jim CLARK, Jordan Schnitzer, president of the Mittleman Jewish Community Center board, tours the construction of a new school library earlier this year. This Sunday fitness fans can get a look at another of the center’s construction projects, one that gave the athletic facilities a face-lift.

The therapy pool at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center will stay open at least through next year because of a successful community fundraising effort.

The pool's continued operation is just one of the success stories that will be celebrated Sunday at an open house at the center, 6651 S.W. Capitol Highway.

The open house - which runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. - will showcase the complete renovation of the center's athletic facilities, part of a $10 million improvement plan intended to boost membership and neighborhood use of the Southwest Portland facility.

The improvements include a state-of-the-art weight and cardiovascular room, featuring treadmills with individual television screens. The lobby, gymnasium and auditorium also are being upgraded.

'The renovation project will return the center to its proper place in the Jewish community and its proper place in the neighborhood,' said Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties and chairman of the Mittleman board of directors.

The center occupies several buildings totaling more that 120,000 square feet on seven acres between Hillsdale and Multnomah Village. It includes a certified K-8 school, the Portland Jewish Academy and a pre-kindergarten program.

The center was in danger of closing in 2004 when it faced a $2.7 million debt and an operating deficit of $800,000. The financial problems largely were attributed to a decline in membership, which was partly the result of newer health and community centers opening in the area, including the city of Portland's community center at Gabriel Park, just a few blocks to the west on Southwest Vermont Street.

New board brought energy

Things began to turn around when a new board of directors was formed and headed by Schnitzer, who has served on many community and cultural boards in the area, including the board of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden in Old Town.

Schnitzer said he took the position in large part because his father, industrialist Harold Schnitzer, had chaired the building committee when the center was forced to move from its original downtown location because of the South Auditorium urban renewal project in the early 1970s.

'When I think of all the work my father and his generation had put into the center, I realized we could not let them down,' he said.

According to Schnitzer, the new board rescheduled the center's debt and convinced the Jewish Federation of Portland to fund the principal and interest payments while a $14 million fundraising drive was launched. Early work focused on the outdated athletic facilities to attract more people willing to pay $55 to $75 a month in membership fees.

'We decided we needed to position the center between the Multnomah Athletic Club and 24-Hour Fitness - to offer family-oriented programs without sacrificing personal services,' he said.

Pool users pool resources

Along the way, the board had to struggle with existing programs that were not paying their own way, including the therapy pool, which was projected to lose $78,000 next fiscal year. But when the board announced in June that the pool would have to close, its users rallied to support it.

They quickly raised $37,000 from more than 80 people in contributions varying in size from $10 to $5,000, convincing the board to seek even more money.

'The big news is, the National Council of Jewish Women has just awarded a $40,000 grant for the continued operation of the pool. Combined with the money that's already been raised, that's enough to operate it through next year,' Schnitzer said.

Visitors to Sunday's open house will be able to see the pool, along with new athletic facilities and locker rooms. The event will also feature demonstrations of new workout equipment and presentations about new Pilates exercise classes, personal training, group exercise and massage therapy services.

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