An innovative project to combine the building of a new YMCA in Edina with accessible housing for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been delayed because of the recession.
The YMCA and CommonBond Communities of St. Paul had hoped to begin construction this year. Instead, they now expect to decide this year whether the project is doable at all, said Harold Mezile, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis.
"The fundraising environment is very challenging right now," Mezile said. "It is forcing people to take a step back. ... We have to determine if the project is possible and if both parties can build on the site and have their needs met."
Last year at this time, the proposal for a new 73,000-square-foot YMCA and a companion building with 130 affordable and handicapped-accessible apartments was moving through Edina City Hall. The project got preliminary approval and rezoning. But Mezile said cost concerns and the design challenges of fitting a new YMCA, apartments and an accessible parking ramp onto the six-acre site forced a reevaluation.
"I know some people in the community may be frustrated, but you go into it and then have to work a plan up and see if it's feasible," he said. "No one is absolutely committed to it right now. What's given us a slap in the face is the challenge of the economy and more difficulty in finding resources. But we're committed to working on this and trying to move forward."
So far, the YMCA has raised $8 million toward its part of the project, about half of what is needed to demolish and replace the current building, according to Mezile.
CommonBond President and CEO Paul Fate echoed Mezile's desire to complete the project if possible. Cost has forced a reconsideration of the details of the proposal, he said. But he said that doesn't necessarily mean a smaller development.
"We think it's prudent in this economy to revisit our development options and make sure what is developed is economically feasible and sustainable, and a real asset to the community," he said. "We're looking at a whole range of alternatives."
The Edina YMCA is one of the busiest in the state, with more than 14,000 members and as many nonmembers who use the facility. Officials would like to replace the 1970s building with one that has larger gym and aerobic areas and a pool for lap swimming as well as one that could be used by kids and for lessons. Though the building would be only 3,000 square feet bigger than the existing YMCA, officials say they could add 20 percent more programming because the design would be more efficient.
The original proposal would have put apartments next to a parking ramp that also would serve the YMCA. That parking issue is one of the elements that is being reevaluated, both for its cost and how well it would meet the needs of both apartment residents and YMCA users.
CommonBond is a nonprofit that has developed and managed affordable housing since 1971, some aimed at seniors, some at people with disabilities. Its Kingsley Commons, a north Minneapolis apartment building for people with MS, has had a waiting list since it opened.
The proposed Edina building would include wheelchair-friendly features like open floor plans, low closet rods, high electrical outlets, and doors that have handles instead of knobs. One of the reasons CommonBond and the YMCA are interested in cooperating on the Edina development is that swimming can be an important therapy for people with MS.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380