Don't expect the Zumba beats to fade anytime soon at Minneapolis' downtown hub for socializing seniors, the Skyway Senior Center.
Months after funding shortfalls spurred warnings that the center may have to shut its doors, one of the state's largest senior home operators, Ecumen, has expressed interest in taking over operations. And a major private donation will keep the lights on for several more months.
"I'm optimistic about it," said Sarah Goodnough, the center's director. "I think it's just an incredible opportunity. I couldn't be happier, actually."
The Skyway Senior Center, located behind the downtown Target store, opened in 2001. It offers everything from yoga classes to book clubs to movie screenings — a documentary about Don Rickles is on tap for Tuesday — and offers visitors use of phones and computers.
The space is open to people over 50 and attracts a diverse crowd that mixes poor seniors — some of them chronically homeless — with downtown's condo crowd. It draws an average of 74 visitors each day, and more than half the visitors who share their demographic information survive on incomes of less than $15,000 a year.
The city operates the center, but it relies on private sponsorships and the help of a small nonprofit organization, Friends of the Skyway Senior Center. Its budget is about $186,000 per year. But longtime sponsor UCare pulled out in 2015 after losing a critical state contract, leaving the center's future in limbo.
The City Council's health committee voted Monday to grant Shoreview-based Ecumen 120 days to negotiate exclusively with the city about assuming responsibility for the center's operation. The company affirmed its interest in a recent letter of intent. But running a public, self-contained social space for seniors would be a new model for Ecumen, said spokesman Ben Taylor.
"We think it makes sense, but we don't know," Taylor said. "And we just want to lift the hood and see what we see. And also spend time trying to plan out how we would do it."
Taylor said the baby boomer generation is expected to stay in their homes as long as possible — supported by many government policies to that effect — which can lead to social isolation.
"So just having a place to go, a place to socialize with other people, can be a strong force in helping people stay active, vibrant, in their homes," Taylor said.
Because of the funding crunch, the center has had to tap the Friends of the Skyway Senior Center for its operating expenses. The group previously paid for one-time expenses like holiday parties and a blood pressure machine.
But a $50,000 gift from an Edina couple, through a Tennessee foundation, has provided a couple of months of breathing room. Donor Barbara Haugen said she was spurred to act after reading an August article in the Star Tribune.
"As a senior myself, I thought how awful it would be to not have somewhere to go," Haugen said Monday.
The council voted Monday to accept the donation and up to $10,000 in future contributions to the Friends organization.
"It's greatly appreciated," said Cam Gordon, health committee chairman. "It will really provide a financial bridge to the future of the skyway center."