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YWCA Minneapolis is selling its longtime Uptown fitness facility and pool to a nonprofit that will convert the space into a workforce development and job training hub.

The 80,000-square-foot building, which has housed the YWCA programs for nearly 40 years, will be sold for $4.25 million to Tending the Soil, a coalition of nonprofits and unions led by Black, Indigenous and people of color .

"We are very excited. We have big dreams," said Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, executive director of Unidos MN, one of the nonprofits with Tending the Soil. "There's an opportunity to again bring more vibrancy to the corridor."

She said the organizations have been planning a workforce development center for years, but the initiative took on more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sale of the Uptown facility, which is near W. Lake Street and includes an 185-spot parking ramp, is expected to close at the end of June.

The YWCA shocked the community last summer with news that it would close its Uptown and downtown fitness centers and pools Nov. 1. Both buildings are in high-profile corridors of the city: one on Nicollet Mall downtown since 1929 and the second in Uptown on Hennepin Avenue since 1987.

This month, the YWCA announced it was selling its downtown building to St. David's Center for Child and Family Development, a Minnetonka nonprofit that provides mental health and autism services to children. The purchase price wasn't disclosed by either nonprofit.

The YWCA still operates in a building in Midtown, but after closing the other two facilities, the organization laid off 45 employees — about 13% of its workforce.

The closings also meant about 300 swimmers in the YWCA's Otters and Masters swim teams had to find new swimming clubs, including at South High School and Southwest High School.

Like other nonprofits struggling financially after the COVID-19 pandemic, YWCA leaders said they faced membership declines, staffing shortages and rising expenses, and decided to move away from health and fitness to focus on child care, racial equity and youth programs.

The YWCA shocked the community last summer with news that it would close its Uptown and downtown fitness centers and pools. The former YWCA Uptown was vacant on Friday.
The YWCA shocked the community last summer with news that it would close its Uptown and downtown fitness centers and pools. The former YWCA Uptown was vacant on Friday.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

Some YWCA members urged the city, Park and Recreation Board or Hennepin County to buy the buildings to keep them open to the public. But city and Park Board leaders said they couldn't afford to do so.

The YWCA said it received four written offers for the Uptown facility. Gonzalez Avalos said the organizations met with neighbors who were relieved to hear the building wouldn't be torn down and replaced with more high-rise condos or apartments, and will bring "new life" to an area with many vacant storefronts.

"They're very excited," she said. "This is going to create opportunities."

Gonzalez Avalos said the organizations will renovate and reopen the building as soon as later this year as the Rise Up Center. She said the center will focus on creating jobs in the green building and clean energy fields.

The location is ideal, Gonzalez Avalos said, because it has plenty of space for growing programs and is near a transit line.

YWCA CEO Shelley Carthen Watson said in a statement that the Hennepin Avenue building has long been a community asset — first as West High School, which opened in 1908. Then a portion of the school's gym was converted into the YWCA. Now, she said, it will re-emerge as a nonprofit that "echoes our mission to eliminate racism, empower women and girls; and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all."

Rise Up Center

Tending the Soil was formed in 2018 by Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, New Justice Project, SEIU Local 26 and Unidos MN.

The new workforce development program is part of efforts to diversify the growing energy sector. The nation's energy workforce is largely white and male. About 24% is nonwhite, and women make up 26%, according to a 2023 U.S. Department of Energy report.

"We hear from the unions that they are eager to diversify their ranks. We hear from developers that are eager to diversify their employee pool," Gonzalez Avalos said. "This is definitely a cutting-edge program."

The building will also house administrative offices for Unidos MN, SEIU Local 26, Tending the Soil and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663, and provide a public gathering space, classrooms and a first-of-its-kind worker cooperative for immigrants who are union members in the construction industry.

"This is a multisector workforce development program in partnership with unions and organizations deeply rooted in community, and I think that's what makes this very unique," Gonzalez Avalos said. "I believe this is going to be a national model."