On Nov. 1, two YWCA locations closed in Minneapolis, sending hundreds of members looking for new places to work out. Behind the scenes, real estate brokers are looking for buyers for the buildings — some of whom could help expand the city’s fast-growing pickleball scene.

The tentative deadline for offers is Nov. 30, according to John McCarthy, senior vice president at Colliers Minneapolis-St. Paul and lead broker for both properties. The timing was confirmed by Kristen Spargo, interim vice president of marketing and communications for Minneapolis YWCA.

It’s not yet clear when the sales will close. That depends on the buyers’ plans and the extent of their due diligence process, which could involve a thorough building inspection and professional appraisal. This step can take weeks to months in commercial real estate transactions like these.

We’ll have to wait even longer to learn those buyers’ detailed plans for the Uptown and Downtown YWCA properties. But we already know enough to make some informed guesses about what could — and probably won’t — happen next.

What’s Next for the Uptown YWCA Site?

Despite Uptown’s ongoing retail slump and very real public safety challenges, not to mention shakiness in the broader commercial real estate market, the Hennepin Avenue YWCA occupies a prime parcel in a sought-after location. That raises the odds of ground-up redevelopment as apartments, with or without first-floor retail in the new building.

That’s not the Uptown YWCA’s only potential future though. Here’s what could happen on the site in the coming weeks and months.

Site security is priority number one

On paper, the Uptown YWCA’s 185-stall parking ramp is a plus for prospective buyers. A developer could disassemble it before construction and rebuild it afterward, says McCarthy. That could be cheaper than building a new ramp from scratch.

In the near term, the ramp is a liability. The surrounding area has a significant unhoused population, especially in the warmer months. Neighbors worry that the vacant parking ramp could attract folks seeking shelter.

“We’ll certainly be paying close attention and so will the immediate neighbors,” says Mike Erlandson, president of the East Isles Neighborhood Association. An unsafe parking ramp “doesn’t serve the neighborhood or any future tenant or property owner.”

The Uptown YWCA parking ramp that is expected to be fully fenced off by mid-November. Photo by Brian Martucci

Minneapolis YWCA has already responded to these concerns. By Nov. 3, workers had removed the ramp’s exterior staircase and boarded up the second-level access door. The entire site should be fenced off by mid-Novemeber, according to Spargo. Other onsite security precautions include:

  • Reinforcing building entrances
  • Keeping the property’s alarm and video surveillance systems running
  • Having maintenance workers come by at least once daily
Stairs to the second floor of the parking ramp have been lowered to the ground at the former Uptown YWCA. Photo by Brian Martucci

Minneapolis YWCA has an open line with the East Isles Neighborhood Association and outgoing Ward 7 City Council Councilmember Lisa Goodman’s office, Spargo said.

It’s a good site for a new apartment building

The listing teases the option for “infill redevelopment positioned in a supply-constrained neighborhood.” In developer-speak, that means new multifamily or mixed-use construction.

“It feels like there’s a higher and better use for the site,” says McCarthy. He’s had conversations with several housing developers interested in building multifamily on the site.

Plugged-in neighbors agree. “It does seem like prime, underutilized real estate. It'd be nice to replace it with lots of housing and some store frontage closer to the sidewalk,” says John Edwards, Wedge LIVE publisher.  

“Ideally, I’d like to see the sort of density you see across the street” at Greenway-adjacent developments like The Bohen and Flex, says Will Stancil, local resident and research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.

But the city’s commercial real estate market faces significant headwinds: high interest rates, flat rent growth, and uncertainty over the Minneapolis 2040 plan. Uptown has additional challenges.

“I don’t know if the economics work out right now,” says Stancil, who studies housing issues.

Public stakeholders won’t help with a community health and fitness center

If housing or mixed-use development isn’t in the site’s immediate future, something resembling the current use is the next most likely outcome.

Erlandson has had conversations with former YWCA members and other neighbors interested in continuing health and fitness activities in the current building. While McCarthy and Spargo are cagey about specific inquiries, both say there’s interest in maintaining the building’s most recent use under new ownership.

But running a multi-level fitness center with a massive pool is an expensive proposition, one unlikely to be viable without deep-pocketed private benefactors or public support (or both). And neither the City nor the Park Board want to pony up.

“Presently, there are deep disparities in areas other than Uptown — in particular, North Minneapolis and the Cedar-Riverside area,” says Park Board president Meg Forney. “We are working with the State and our nonprofit, public, and private partners to … fund new-built facilities in these two areas.”

Life Time is out

If a community-supported health and fitness center is unlikely to materialize, could a for-profit alternative step up?

Possibly. According to McCarthy, at least one prospective buyer is interested in the site as a destination health club. Their plans could involve pickleball.

But the likeliest contender to repurpose it as such, Chanhassen-based Life Time,  is not interested. “Neither of the [YWCA] sites … are under consideration by our company given the breadth of locations we operate in the Twin Cities market,” says Jason Thunstrom, Life Time’s vice president of public relations and corporate communications.

The local fitness market is crowded — and only just now recovering from the pandemic, mirroring national trends. Life Time’s downtown Minneapolis club has an expansive fitness floor and a small lap pool. Greater Uptown has several smaller, pool-less fitness centers, including LA Fitness and Orangetheory outposts just up Hennepin Avenue. Southwest is home to a growing number of independently owned gyms serving various fitness niches as well. And many newer apartment buildings nearby have residents-only workout rooms.

What’s Next for the Downtown YWCA Site?

Unlike its counterpart in Uptown, the concrete hulk that houses the Downtown YWCA still has some life. For now, at least, it houses Minneapolis YWCA’s administrative offices, and its busy children’s center could survive the ownership transition. It’s also an unlikely candidate for ground-up redevelopment.

Here’s what we know so far about what could come next.

“One of the ugliest buildings in downtown Minneapolis” is probably here to stay (for now)

There’s little basis for eager speculation that the nearly 50-year-old structure’s days are numbered. Without ruling it out entirely, Colliers’ McCarthy places long odds on the prospect of a teardown, largely due to long-term weakness in the downtown office market.

“Nobody’s coming to me and saying, ‘I want to build an office building here,’” he says.

Will this Brutalist relic endure for another 50 years? Stay tuned.

The children’s center could remain onsite

The children’s center is a lifeline for parents who work downtown and transit-dependent families from across the city. Minneapolis YWCA wants it to stay that way.

“It would be ideal if we could keep our children and families connected to this space at the downtown facility,” says Spargo.

Whether that’s possible ultimately depends on the buyer’s plans for the building. Minneapolis YWCA would need to lease the old children’s center and rooftop play area back from the new owner, which could have its own designs on the space. Representatives from a Montessori school toured the property last month, according to McCarthy.

If the new owner won’t cooperate, Minneapolis YWCA will look nearby for a replacement space. “It’s important to us to maintain a downtown presence for the families who’ve been connected to us and the teachers serving their kids,” says Spargo.

The rooftop could get busier

The building’s spacious, high-walled rooftop has been a hit with prospective buyers, says McCarthy.

One group floated the idea of a permanent hospitality space up there, either a high-end restaurant or private events venue. Another envisioned a dual-purpose space that utilized the existing children’s play area by day and a separate entertainment area by night. Yet another suggested an outdoor fitness space for adults.

Bottom line: Recess probably won’t be the only thing happening up there for much longer.

Pickleball might be involved (again)

Pickleball is so hot right now, but the craze has (mostly) sidestepped downtown. Life Time’s Target Center club has the area’s only operational courts, at least until an outdoor pair debuts next fall in Loring Park.

Another set could join them at the downtown YWCA site, possibly on the roof. According to McCarthy, one prospective buyer — “a fitness group that has pickleball in their toolbox” — floated new courts on the rooftop to complement the building’s existing indoor fitness assets.

How Much Will the YWCA Sites Sell For?

No one knows. Neither listing shows an asking price, which is standard practice in commercial real estate. And because Minneapolis YWCA is a tax-exempt nonprofit, there’s no public tax assessment on Hennepin County’s property information website that indicates their market value.

Specialty properties like these are notoriously difficult to appraise anyway. Commercial real estate appraisers typically value them by calculating how much it would cost to build a functional replacement today. But that number has little bearing on what a developer might be willing to pay for a site they plan to raze and rebuild for an entirely different use.

The YWCA seems eager to bargain. Both listings tout “a price significantly below replacement costs.” Neither McCarthy nor Spargo offered more specifics.