New center, same mission

The Blaisdell YMCA celebrated its grand reopening this month after a $6 million renovation and expansion

LYNDALE — Richard Gwynne was in his mid-20s when he started a job as a youth-outreach worker for the Blaisdell YMCA.

That job and the people he met doing it sent him on a path to become a social worker, something he did for decades before retiring a few years ago. Though he didn’t always live in Minneapolis, he never lost touch with the YMCA in Southwest, visiting the center whenever he could. Now in retirement, the lean 68-year-old spends several days a week there lifting weights and chatting with friends old and new.

“This center is well-grounded in the community and always has been,” Gwynne said.  

The difference is that these days Gwynne is lifting brand-new weights in a completely revamped facility. The Blaisdell YMCA underwent a $6 million renovation and expansion during the last year, bringing it into the 21st century with a modern look, new exercise equipment and more space.

The facility celebrated its grand reopening July 18.

Overseeing the refreshed center is new executive director Kerry! Givens. That exclamation point is a real part of Givens’ name and he’s so excited about everything going on at the YMCA that it just makes sense.

Givens, who previously managed Flagship Athletic Club in Eden Prairie, has only five months on the job. He took over for Mike Melstad, a major facilitator in the redesign who last winter accepted a job as CEO of a YMCA in Red Wing, Minn.  

Givens said his passions are running athletic facilities, promoting good health, raising money and serving communities. Each is fulfilled in his new position, which happened to place him in a top-notch facility — one he claims will rival any health club anywhere.

Outside, the upgrades are obvious and include a new façade and outdoor play area. Inside are a new second-floor fitness center, new fitness studios, an in-pool climbing wall and diving board, an “XRcade” with videogame exercise equipment for kids and a swath of other features.

There isn’t a section of the YMCA that wasn’t improved in some way, Givens said.

“People are amazed when they walk through the door,” he said.

The population of Blaisdell YMCA users seems to cross all ages, genders, races and socioeconomic boundaries. Members come from all over South Minneapolis and beyond.

Longtime Blaisdell YMCA member Steve Kramka is from the Central neighborhood. He said the Blaisdell center is easier to get to than the Downtown YMCA and he enjoys the diversity of members.

“I’ve come to enjoy the community aspect of this Y,” he said.

Kramka said the most noticeable change since the remodel is the light. A huge stretch of windows on the second floor makes for an airy feel in the fitness center.   

Member Rita Foster, 76, said she also likes the new atmosphere, but more important to her is the attitude of staff and other members. She said she’s not very social, but people seem to know her.

“The people who work here are the friendliest people,” Foster said. “Many of them know my name. Everyone that does know me calls me by name.”

Givens said the center’s membership is on the rise and more people in the area are beginning to recognize the Blaisdell YMCA as a community asset.

“There’s a lot more pride in this area now,” he said.

Gwynne doesn’t like everything about the new building — he wishes the weights section were larger, for instance. But he loves watching the clouds pass during workouts, something he couldn’t do for decades in the old center.

He’s hoping the center means as much to future generations as it has to him over the years.

“I’m glad that it’s here,” he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.