The Twin Cities YMCA plans to open a smaller "boutique" facility in downtown St. Paul in 2022, following the closing of its Lowertown fitness center last year.

It's part of several changes at the nonprofit, now called the YMCA of the North, as it wraps up a five-year, $225 million fundraising campaign — a record amount raised for a YMCA in the United States, let alone Minnesota.

"This, we believe, is the largest campaign in YMCA history," CEO Glen Gunderson said. "We were quite surprised by the enormous generosity by the community even through the pandemic."

The Twin Cities Y — the third-largest in the U.S. — last week made its first public announcement about the campaign, launched in 2017 and now entering its final year. About $25 million is left to raise this year from donors and foundations.

Twin Cities Y ended 2020 with a 40% decline in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed gyms, child care and other programs for months. Last summer the organization, one of the largest nonprofits in Minnesota, laid off nearly 150 employees and furloughed thousands of staffers.

Gunderson said the Y has now stabilized and doesn't anticipate more cuts. The organization has 29 sites in the metro area, southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, and a $179 million annual budget.

Despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, fundraising results have been "astonishing," said Judy Blaseg, a consultant for the campaign. She added that foundations stepped up "unrestricted" funding — funds not limited to certain programs or initiatives — and some donors who usually gave money once a year gave three times in 2020.

Shift to 'boutique'

The campaign will support construction of the new $20 million St. Paul Y and relocation next year of a day camp, Kici Yapi, offering activities and horseback riding, from an 80-acre site in Prior Lake to 220 acres in New Market Township. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community bought the Prior Lake land in 2008.

The new St. Paul Y, slated to open in fall 2022, will be less than a half-mile from the Lowertown location. The Y is redeveloping a portion of the one-story former Ecolab training center and plaza near the Green Line into a two-story, 25,000-square-foot building with a fitness center and other services.

Gunderson said the move allows the Y to downsize to a cheaper space that's more than half the size of the former site and centrally located in downtown. The new model, he added, is part of a trend of fitness centers moving from "monolithic, massive places" to boutique-like spaces focused on overall well-being.

"It's going to be far more progressive than anything we've built," he said.

The Y closed its Lowertown fitness center last year after 36 years in the former Galtier Plaza building, along with other sites in Lino Lakes and Prior Lake for repurposing as "community hubs." Y leaders said they will sell the Lowertown space and are "reimagining" the River Valley YMCA in Prior Lake, while the city of Lino Lakes will reclaim the rec center there.

New equity work

The campaign has funded several initiatives already, including the Douglas Dayton YMCA in downtown Minneapolis, the George Wellbeing Center offering massage and acupuncture at the downtown Minneapolis Y, and the new Camp Northern Lights in Ely.

The Y also is shifting its focus to providing resources at schools and parks, including a new nature equity initiative with outdoor opportunities for underrepresented youth.

"Traditionally people think of the Y as a place," Gunderson said. "You'll see a lot of that unfold over the next year ... stepping out of our traditional means of only operating within [a building]."

Last year, some Y board members called out the organization's "deep seated and systemic racism" after anonymous social media posts revealed incidents of discrimination. Y officials have since conducted listening sessions, started a CEO Equity Advisory Team with employees of color and hired a new executive, George McCrary, to lead "people and culture."

"Just like any organization, we've identified that we've had our work to do as well," Gunderson said. "We're doing, I think, a better job now of articulating those goals and holding ourselves accountable to those goals."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141