by CHRIS ROGERS
Because work to build a new home for the Winona Family YMCA is taking longer than expected, a purchase agreement to sell the Y’s current building was canceled.
Burnsville, Minn.,-based autism therapy company Partners in Excellence agreed to buy the Y building last year. Partners in Excellence intended to use the building as the home for its new Winona branch, while Y leaders planned to construct a new shared facility with Winona Health on the clinic’s campus. The purchase agreement gave the Y until March 1, 2019, to build a new YMCA and move out of its current facility. Yesterday, YMCA officials said the purchase agreement was terminated because the Y is not on track to meet that deadline. Y leaders said that because fundraising is still ongoing, it is unclear when the Y will start construction on its new facility.
“Once we start construction on the [new] Y up there, construction is going to be 12 to 15 months,” Winona Family YMCA Interim CEO Bill Soper explained. To move into its new facility before the purchase agreement deadline, the Y would have needed to begin construction late last year, he explained. That did not occur. If Partners in Excellence had enforced the terms of the purchase agreement, the Y would have been required to move out of the old facility before the new one was ready, forcing the Y to either rent an interim facility or suspend its programming, Soper explained. “That certainly would have been very disruptive to the Y if that had happened,” Soper said. Because Partners in Excellence did not want to put the Y in that position, the two parties agreed to cancel the deal, Soper added.
“The decision to terminate the agreement was made cooperatively between the two parties in order to accommodate the timeframe needed by the YMCA to stay in the existing facility during construction of the new Y facility,” Y leaders wrote in a statement released on Monday. “[Partners in Excellence owner] Bruce Thomas and Partners in Excellence did not want to enforce the purchase agreement, which would have resulted in disruption of the YMCA operations, as Y leaders determined that the new Y facility would not be ready in time to meet the purchase agreement deadline.”
“Working cooperatively with Bill Soper, CEO of the YMCA, we determined that due to the timeframe that the Y needed to facilitate completion of the construction of their new building, the timing of Partners being able to move into that space would be significantly delayed,” Jackie Vick, the director of Partners in Excellence’s Winona branch, wrote in an email yesterday.
Soper explained there were a variety of reasons the Y is not on track to meet the purchase agreement deadline. First and foremost, the YMCA is still fundraising to pay for the new Y facility, Soper stated. Earlier this spring, Soper told the Post that Y hoped to break ground in August. At that time, Y leaders were hoping to secure the last $2 million needed to fund the $14 million project. In an interview this Monday, Soper said that because that fundraising is still ongoing, the Y’s plans for starting construction are up in the air. “We really don’t want to launch until the dollars have been committed,” Soper explained.
Secondly, Soper continued, Y leaders decided to switch architects and redesign the new building after Soper replaced former CEO Derek Madsen last year. That change was good and helped the Y make sure the new building will meet the community’s needs, Soper said. However, he added, “The redesign of the building slowed us up just a bit.” The YMCA has not released complete plans for the new building since the redesign, and in the press release this week, Y leaders said the design is still being finalized.
Thirdly, the Y is still working out the details of how it will share space with Winona Health. “We’re also negotiating the lease agreement with Winona Health … We’re trying to get some of those details finalized with Winona Health,” Soper said. “It’s probably going to be one of those $1 a year for 99 years for use of the land, but what we’re really spending more time on is what does the agreement look like in terms of Winona Health having space inside the new Y.” Winona Health plans to relocate its entire Rehabilitative Services department within the new shared building. Leaders from both organizations see a natural fit between rehabilitation and ongoing wellness. Soper explained the discussion centers around: “What are [Winona Health’s] needs, and what are the Y’s needs, and how are we going to integrate the programs, and working through those — I wouldn’t even call them issues — but working through those questions.”
Leaders for the Winona YMCA and Winona Health have been fundraising and planning for the new shared facility since 2013. However, the Y’s original plan to sell its location to Kwik Trip also fell through. After homeowners in the nearby Windom Park neighborhood and some other Winonans balked at allowing a gas station to be built at the foot of the Winona bridge and next to the historic neighborhood, the Y and Kwik Trip withdrew the proposal.
Y leaders said they are confident they can find a new buyer for the current building. “As I mentioned in the [press release], with all the activity going on currently in downtown, we think there’s going to be interest in the facility. We’ve already had some interest expressed in it. We’re not really concerned with finding a new buyer for it,” Soper said.
Asked if the purchase agreement cancellation was a setback for the new building campaign, Soper responded, “I don’t see it as a setback. Obviously the Y up there has been fundraising for quite some time, and there have been hurdles, but we remain confident and $12 million have been committed to the project,” he stated. The project has gone through other issues, Soper said, adding, “We will get through this one as well.”
In the press release, Y officials wrote, “Y leaders continue to work toward closing out the capital campaign designed to bring a new, state-of-the-art YMCA to meet the health, wellness and fitness needs of our area. This new Y is being designed to provide fun, healthy and community-building programs and activities for all ages for decades to come. It will be a wonderful community gathering place with activities that promote health and well-being.”