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Old 'Y' project to move forward

WORTHINGTON -- The devil is in the details, but the grant money is not.

During a special city council meeting Wednesday, council members committed themselves to a public use for the former Worthington Area YMCA facility, a stipulation of the grant for which they want to apply. But after grappling for more than an hour with the preliminary layout of the building set to become a permanent community center, members agreed the details weren't necessary to apply for a Department of Employment and Economic Development grant that could provide up to $150,000 toward total project costs.

At its regular meeting Monday, council will receive a project cost estimate from Jorge Lopez of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, with which the city has contracted to guide redevelopment of the property. Members will also give Lopez the official go-ahead to proceed with the grant application, though the city is not locked in to using the facility for a public purpose until it accepts the money.

Members also authorized City Administrator Craig Clark to begin development of a purchase agreement with YMCA staff for the property. Either outright purchase or a purchase agreement is also required to apply for the grant.

Lopez presented a preliminary drawing of the structure, which could equal about 12,000 total square feet.

"We would demolish the swimming pool and the older part of the building and leave in the newer part, which is the gym and racquetball courts and the track in the basement. We would add 4,200 to 4,400 square feet in front of the building and put the parking where the old pool used to be," explained Lopez. "We also put 14 parking stalls across the street. We were trying to utilize the space as much as possible. Right now it's just a concept; but the space is there if we wanted to put parking stalls."

The plan also included a lunch room for Senior Dining, a 3,050-square-foot multipurpose space in the gymnasium and more multipurpose space in the basement.

"I don't see a lot of special purpose rooms, such as a quilting room, book club room, woodworking," said Alderman Mike Kuhle in expressing concern that equipment for each group would need to be stored separately and repeatedly hauled out for use.

"We just don't have the resources or money to provide everyone with their own little space," answered Alderman Lyle Ten Haken, who was also acting as mayor pro tem. He said utilizing a multipurpose room fully would be better than having dedicated spaces that were used rarely by a small group of people.

Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis said only the footprint, or outline, of the plan would be submitted with the grant application; the wall placement or use of each room could be determined later.

The council will also need to decide how to handle maintenance of the building in the meantime. Turning off the heat altogether could threaten the wood flooring in the gymnasium, but heating the facility through the winter would cost an estimated $17,000.

In other business, the council met with Stephen Sherf, president of Hospitality Consulting Group Inc., the company conducting the city's hotel and events center feasibility study.

Council members questioned him about the scope of the project.

"My objective is to look at the lodging industry and identify the kind of businesses that would use an events center," Sherf explained.

He plans to talk to community members and hotel operators and examine businesses and event centers in comparable communities to determine what Worthington needs in a combination events center and hotel. The project could also become a freestanding events center with no hotel, though that's not likely; or developers could add a restaurant on the property. Sherf will submit a draft of his report for council review in 30 days.