YMCA maps out its relocation to new facilities

When the YMCA of the Sierra went shopping for property in downtown Reno, it got an almost perfect snapshot of what's happening in the central city:

* Locations are hard to find particularly at the right price.

* Office dwellers increasingly want more amenities nearby.

* Residential developers are quick to pounce at downtown opportunities.

The YMCA this summer will move its fitness facilities into 11,000 square feet at 50 West Liberty, taking the ground floor of the office building at Sierra and Liberty.

At the same time, it's begun developing plans to move its Link Piazzo and Wiegand Youth Centers to 5th and Washington.

And the Y's regional development plan also includes an upgrade of its Sparks Family Center and opening of new satellite centers at Cold Springs, Spanish Springs and Damonte Ranch.

Since a facilities committee began weekly meetings last September, however, the biggest headache was finding downtown locations.

The nonprofit's board led by Chairman Brooks Mancini had made a commitment that the YMCA would maintain a strong downtown presence, even though its current facilities near Reno High School at 1300 Foster Drive

were proving to be a financial millstone around the neck of the Y.

Easy enough to make, the commitment to stay downtown became a big challenge, says Meg Cleary, chair of the committee that went looking.

As a first step, Cleary says, the group hired Joel Grace of Alliance Commercial Real Estate to see if there might be a market for the 173,805-square-foot parcel.

There was.

A residential developer YMCA officials identified it last month as West Haven Development quickly submitted a proposal. The property remains under contract, but the sale hasn't closed escrow.

While waiting for proposals to come in, Grace also was combing the downtown area for sites large enough to house the fitness, youth and children's programs as well as office space for the YMCA staff.

"The options were slim and none," says Mark Lieske, the group's president and chief executive officer. "And we knew the Y was going to be hard-pressed to pay the going rate in downtown Reno."

The facilities committee had high hopes that the YMCA might share space with the Discovery Museum, which acquired the old city hall at 490 S. Center. No dice. The museum needed it all.

Unable to find all the space they needed at a price they could afford, the YMCA staff and volunteers began thinking of separate locations. That brought a breakthrough.

Cleary set an appointment with Larry O'Brien, the chief executive officer of Saint Mary's, to talk about vacant land the hospital owned at 5th and Washington.

There was some irony in the conversation. When Saint Mary's opened a fitness center, it drew its business heavily from members of the YMCA.

"I guilted him," Cleary says with a laugh. But Saint Mary's was willing to talk about a ground lease of the 75,000-square-foot property. Those talks continue.

"We are interested in working with the YMCA because we recognize an opportunity to partner with a community organization whose mission to provide quality community services and programs is similar to ours," says Saint Mary's spokeswoman Katie Nannini.

While the Y was scouting downtown locations, Matt Riecken of Trammell Crow Co. was scouting tenants for the building at 50 West Liberty.

A survey he'd conducted of office tenants in the building found strong support for a fitness center at 50 West Liberty even among office dwellers who already had gym memberships elsewhere.

Riecken had pitched the idea without success to a couple of fitness center operators. Within a day of learning the Y was looking to relocate, he was making a presentation.

The nonprofit liked the idea.

Liked it so much, in fact, that there was some conversation about moving child-care and other Y programs into upper floors of 50 West Liberty. But about a drop-off locations for kids on busy downtown streets? Would the city give a waiver to safety regulations concerning child-care high-rise buildings?

Even after it became clear that the Y's plans would be limited to the first-floor fitness center space, executives of the building's owner Basin Street Properties of Petaluma, Calif. remained enthusiastic.

"They see this as a very public example of the revitalization of downtown," Riecken says. "This is a home run."


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