The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is closing fitness centers in downtown St. Paul, Lino Lakes and Prior Lake to explore ways to repurpose them as "community hubs."

The "COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on our organization just as it has for nonprofits and businesses across the world," Chief Operating Officer Greg Waibel said in a statement. "The changes we are making are not ones we had planned to make when we began the year, but have become necessary for the Y to remain sustainable and relevant for the near and long term."

The YMCA, one of Minnesota's largest nonprofits, declined to comment further Tuesday.

The closures come as the YMCA has seen revenue drop by 30% this year after closing camps, fitness centers and child care programs for several months due to the pandemic. Last week, the Y laid off 146 part-time and full-time staff while keeping 3,428 employees on unpaid furlough.

Sarah Page of Bloomington is among those losing her job in August as a part-time fitness instructor at the River Valley YMCA in Prior Lake.

"In that area, there's no substitute," said Page, who also works full time as a nurse. "All the clubs really have their own kind of unique feel."

She said it's unlikely there will be open teaching spots for her at another Y, but she's more upset about the loss of the popular gym for her family. They've been members for six years.

"River Valley was kind of its own family, its own community," Page said. "It's almost like losing a family."

The Lino Lakes, downtown St. Paul and River Valley YMCAs were slated to reopen next week after being closed since March, but instead the nonprofit said it will close the fitness centers and determine what programs and partnerships will be in the community hub "designed to provide critical, lifesaving necessities and services."

"We are currently undergoing a process to determine how these sites will be reimagined in order to best serve their communities," the Y said in its statement, adding that the downtown St. Paul Y had been moving toward this model for two years and the River Valley and Lino Lakes sites had declining memberships in the past five years.

Like many nonprofits, the YMCA relies on in-person programs or events for revenue. Some of its 82,000 members canceled or paused memberships, or stopped child care, during the closures.

On top of the financial strain, the Y also faces concerns about systemic racism. CEO Glen Gunderson pledged this month to increase diversity in recruiting and hiring, expand resources and training to employees, conduct listening sessions and a survey, review all policies and convene an equity advisory team with Black and American Indian employees and other people of color.

Loss of community

The Y said all options are "on the table" in how the three sites will be "reimagined," such as reconfiguring the buildings. The downtown St. Paul Y opened in 1984, while Lino Lakes started in 2007.

Sara Taylor of Prior Lake taught fitness classes at the River Valley Y since it opened in 2009.

"I love the YMCA so it makes me really sad that this is where we're at," said Taylor, who hopes she can transfer to teach at another Y site. "It was a major shocker to all of us."

Katie Foley of Shakopee was also a part-time employee and a member, calling it a welcoming gathering place for seniors and families.

She canceled her membership because other south metro Ys are farther away. So did Julie Kockelman of Shakopee after being a member for a decade.

"It's got a small-town feel," Kockelman said, adding that she joined the River Valley Y because it was close to her home and work, and over time, the instructors and members became friends, celebrating life milestones.

"These aren't just people we work out with, these are friends we've walked through life with," she said.

Rick Morgan of Jordan said he will also drop his membership because other Y fitness centers are farther away. He spent seven years attending BodyPump, cycling and step classes at the Prior Lake gym.

"Besides a good workout, it was good fun," he said, adding that he doesn't understand why the Y closed out­lying metro sites in Prior Lake and Lino Lakes "that probably do the best outreach to the smaller communities. It's frustrating."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141