The Winona YMCA on Thursday stepped back from plans to sell its building and land to Kwik Trip, following a contentious public hearing and a week of backlash from some concerned about a convenience store’s effects on downtown and the surrounding neighborhood.
Thursday’s decision doesn’t mean that the agreement or the project is dead, only that the YMCA is planning several new steps to address concerns and will also entertain other qualified offers.
The YMCA’s leadership and its board plan to re-engage homeowners in the historic Windom Park neighborhood and others to see if there is a different solution to funding the YMCA’s move, as some opponents suggested this week but without offering specifics. The YMCA also plans to publicly list the building and land for sale.
The YMCA will also continue discussions with city of Winona planning staff and officials about revising the comprehensive plan, a prerequisite to rezoning the land, currently zoned as residential.
“As a community-based charitable organization, the YMCA seeks to serve the greatest number of our neighbors possible through programs that improve total wellbeing,” YMCA CEO Derek Madsen said in a statement. “Forging onward with an issue that is potentially divisive is not in line with our goals for the organization.”
“All of this must be done in a timely fashion,” he said. “The Y is committed to resolving this issue quickly so that we can progress with our project. We will continue to pursue the greatest possible community support.”
The biggest challenge to the YMCA’s plans came from Windom Park neighbors and others upset not with the Y’s plan to relocate, but instead with the relocation resulting in a convenience store on the west end of downtown at the foot of the new interstate bridge, with concerns including lighting, traffic, and overall fit.
The plan has also drawn large support, not only from longtime YMCA backers and those interested in the proposed collaboration with Winona Health, where the YMCA is planning to develop its new facility, but others who pointed out that the La Crosse-based Kwik Trip has been approachable and flexible in developing several stores in Winona to fit in with surrounding neighborhoods.
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Others have noted that the neighborhood has changed dramatically in the last two years because of the bridge project, which led to the removal of nearly two dozen residential and commercial properties, and has led to a number of proposed or ongoing new developments, including the owners of the former Timbers restaurant proposing a major mixed-use retail and residential development.
The Winona Planning Commission on Monday, following an hours-long meeting that drew an overflow crowd to City Hall chambers, narrowly voted to recommend denial of changing the comprehensive plan. That recommendation was scheduled to come before the Winona City Council at its first June meeting, but has subsequently been pulled, city staff said Thursday.
The loss of Kwik Trip could mean a major blow to the YMCA’s plan to raise $13 million for the move. The company has proposed purchasing the building for $750,000, but more importantly offered as a donation paying for the demolition and site prep, estimated to cost nearly the equivalent of the purchase price. There isn’t any alternative to the proposal, at least not one that’s been announced publicly and backed with similar funding.
“(Kwik Trip’s) aim was to support the community by bringing a solution to our concern of future use, and we are grateful to them,” Madsen said.
The YMCA hasn’t previously listed its building and land for sale, but has approached a number of area parties without success in recent years, targeting those who would be interested in and financially capable of developing a building constructed more than 60 years ago and renovated multiple times specifically for the Y’s purposes, including a pair of swimming pools and other features.
The YMCA had hoped, during the planning phases of the interstate bridge project years ago, that the bridge landing would extend into the YMCA’s property, forcing the Minnesota Department of Transportation to buy the building and land. But that didn’t happen, with MnDOT instead carefully routing the plan around the property.
The YMCA is working to create a state-of-the-art building the organization believes will meet the community’s current needs while providing new and innovative wellness models aimed at serving everyone from seniors to at-risk youth to Winona Health clients. It has been investigating and planning a move for several years, but has not been able to find enough donors in the community to fully fund a move without first selling its existing assets.