New survey will inform YMCA's east-side plans

·4 min read

Jun. 19—MANKATO — Mankato Family YMCA is sending out a survey to gauge how many new members a proposed second location on the city's east side could draw.

The nonprofit's leaders and board have been eyeing an east Mankato location for years, with COVID-19 putting earlier plans on hold.

Now, said Executive Director John Kind, the YMCA knows what programs any new facility would have and knows there'd be room to include a new facility in developer Mike Drummer's Shopko building redevelopment on Madison Avenue. YMCA leaders just need updated survey results to determine whether moving ahead with the second location is feasible.

"What we're looking at is a net increase in members," Kind said.

The YMCA's west-side location would remain open, and members would be able to use both.

A survey conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic indicated membership could grow by about 5,000 members with a second location. Much has changed since then, however, making the current appetite for an east-side location harder to predict. YMCA had just under 10,000 members before the pandemic, dipped to 4,200 in February 2021, then rebounded to its current 7,300.

"I normally would have a guess but COVID-19 throws a monkey wrench in everything," Kind said. "I just don't know what to expect."

New gyms opened since then give the YMCA more competition. The YMCA tries to stand out by offering programming for children and families in addition to its gym and recreational facilities, making programming key to its east-side plans.

On one hand, the negative financial impact of COVID-19 makes the previous survey's finding of additional 5,000 members less certain. On the other hand, there might be greater recognition of the need for in-person family and children's programming because of the pandemic's many cancellations and closures.

The survey will answer which is the prevailing factor. It's specifically aimed at residents in cities east of Mankato, including Eagle Lake, Janesville, Madison Lake and St. Clair.

Those communities don't have YMCA-type programming, or gyms for that matter, in abundance. Some residents may already have seen the surveys in their utility bills or city newsletters, and others can expect to see them in the coming weeks.

Free Press readers can also expect to see survey information and links in upcoming editions.

Previous surveys asked whether residents were members at Mankato's YMCA, and if not, why?

"A lot of people said it's too far to go from the east side to the Y on the west side," Kind said, adding that parking congestion was the other main issue for respondents. "The things they said about why they weren't members were things that we'd solve by an east-side Y."

A September 2022 opening was the initial timeline before COVID-19 hit. If survey results come in favorable, followed by a successful capital campaign, September 2024 would be the updated goal.

An eight- to 12-lane pool remains part of the plan. Survey responses consistently showed a desire for a pool, and Kind said space for parking is secured after Drummer pledged to donate the parking lot between Cub Foods and the old Shopko.

Drummer's plans for the old Shopko include an ice rink, Crooked Pint Ale House with a Green Mill on the Go, and a wedding and event center.

Redevelopment was underway in March. Shopko's shelves had been removed by then, Drummer told the Free Press at the time, and supports were installed to hold the ceiling over the ice rink.

Even accounting for all of Drummer's plans, another 60,000 square feet or so was set aside for possible use by YMCA. The square footage is about a similar footprint to the existing location on the west side.

The survey will remain open for the next couple weeks before Daniel Sachau, director of the Organizational Effectiveness Research Group at Minnesota State University, prepares the results for YMCA's leadership and board. Current YMCA members can weigh in, although the survey will distinguish between them and potential new members.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola