May 5, 2022 - News

YMCA open to selling entire downtown Des Moines facility, CEO says

A photo of the YMCA.
The Wellmark YMCA in downtown Des Moines includes an Olympic-size pool and a triathlon training facility. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

The YMCA of Greater Des Moines is now open to a future without a presence in the massive downtown facility it has occupied since 2015.

Why it matters: The Y is among the largest fitness centers in the metro, and the nonprofit aims to provide residents more affordable options for exercise, child care and youth activities.

What's happening: Leisha Barcus, the organization's CEO, told Polk County supervisors this week that her board is open to a complete sale of its Wellmark property at 501 Grand Ave. That's a change in tune from the three previous years that the property has been on the market.

  • The Y prefers to maintain a presence at the site but the board is keeping its options open, Barcus told Axios Wednesday.
  • The announcement came as supervisors approved a $6.5 million bridge loan this week to help the Y secure a sale or development agreement of the site.

The intrigue: The Y is also working to sell its South Suburban location, which has been leased to Genesis Health Clubs since October of 2020.

  • Broadlawns Medical Center is in exploratory discussions to purchase the property, spokesperson Katie Wengert told Axios Wednesday.
A photo of Genesis Heath Clubs.
Broadlawns Medical Center may purchase the YMCA's South Suburban location at 401 E. Army Post Rd. in DSM. It's currently leased by Genesis Health Clubs, which received a $3 million loan from Polk County to help it build a new facility at Southridge Mall. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios.

State of play: Pandemic-related shutdowns have exacerbated the Y’s financial challenges, leading to the loss of 6,000 members across its six DSM-area branches and more than $6 million in revenue loss, as of last year.

  • The Y announced a lease-back recovery plan for its downtown, Waukee and West Des Moines sites in January 2021 to help shed debt.
  • Earlier this year, a developer terminated an agreement to turn half of the downtown facility's 146,000 square feet of fitness space into affordable housing.

What they're saying: The Y is in its best financial position in years, partly due to federal and state pandemic assistance, Barcus told county supervisors this week.

  • Membership is back to 70% of what it was before the pandemic, she said.

Meanwhile, Matt McCoy, the only Polk County supervisor to vote no on the bridge loan, told Axios that he believes the Y should explore reorganization under bankruptcy.

  • Supervisor Tom Hockensmith, in response to McCoy during Tuesday's meeting, said bankruptcy would cause further economic distress.

The bottom line: The Y is trying to evolve and improve the organization's long-term financial health.

  • The county's action this week was an "incredibly important" step, Barcus said.
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