Rebranded and remodeled, Lino Lakes is set to reopen a shuttered YMCA, giving community residents a place to work out and gather once again.
Michael Carter, 74, of Lino Lakes couldn't be happier.
"I've missed the Y," he said as he stopped in to exercise last week. "It's convenient. I've put on a few pounds. I wanted it to reopen."
Called the Rookery Activity Center, the facility at 7690 Village Drive will officially open Monday. But it has already welcomed its first few members like Carter who had been with Endurance Fitness of Minnesota. The small gym that offered fitness classes in a nearby strip mall recently lost its lease, and is partnering with the Rookery to continue programming there. Classes have already started.
"It was an easy transition," said Endurance owner Ron Carlson. "This is our home base."
When the Lino Lakes YMCA closed in March 2020 as part of a reorganization plan — facilities in St. Paul and Prior Lake shut down, too — "it left a hole for the community and they had to go to Forest Lake or Shoreview," said Rookery manager Lisa Lamey.. "Now they can come back home."
About 275 people have already purchased memberships, Lamey said.
After the Y pulled out, the city-owned building sat empty, and that seemed like "a travesty," said Mayor Rob Rafferty. That's when city leaders and staff began looking for a way to get the facility back open.
"We had to pay the mortgage whether it was open or not," Rafferty said. "I think this is a community asset."
The state used the building as a COVID vaccination and testing center, but that didn't bring in much money. Then about $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding arrived and every department at City Hall "took the bull by horns and came up with a plan to make it work," Rafferty said.
Over the past five months, city staff and contractors gave the building a floor-to-ceiling redo by putting in new locker rooms, flooring, heating and cooling system, and furniture in the lobby. New carpet was laid, walls were painted and muralist Tony Stafki added his handiwork. Even electrical plates were switched out. The center was renamed the Rookery in a nod to the numerous great blue herons that nest in the area.
"We want people to see it as the Rookery, not the Y," Lamey said.
Mission accomplished, said Alexandra Floren, 30, of Blaine.
"It's beautiful," she said as she worked out with weights last week.
The Rookery will offer monthly and annual memberships plus 10-visit passes and daily drop-in rates. It also plans to offer 53 fitness classes through Endurance, youth programs, specialty camps, pickleball and health and wellness classes for seniors to complement a full array of weights, treadmills and elliptical machines. Floren said she's excited to be able to take swimming lessons.
"I'm a kayaker and I don't know how to swim," she said.
Rafferty acknowledges the work is not done. The pool's water slide will be refurbished over the summer and there are dreams of expanding the gymnasium in the future. But for now, the immediate goal is creating a welcoming space where people can meet their friends and neighbors.
"It will get there," he said. The building's transformation has "been totally uplifting. We gave the community center a new name and better yet, a place where people want to meet again."