Posted on 11/05/2014 at 10:06 AM by YMCA of Greater Des Moines
To read the original article in The Des Moines Register, click here.
The nets are already hanging from the basketball hoops inside downtown's new Wellmark YMCA.
In less than two months, they'll be swooshing with pick-up games and shoot-arounds. You might even run into executive director Tim Short on the court.
The Wellmark YMCA is scheduled to open Jan. 1. The adjacent Olympic-size pool is expected to open in summer 2015.
Short, who described himself as a lifelong basketball player, took over as the head of downtown's Riverfront YMCA last year and will serve as executive director of the Wellmark Y. He gave the Register a tour of the new facility this week.
The basketball, handball and squash courts looked ready for action. The eighth-of-a-mile track circling the basketball courts and fitness class areas on the second floor was in place. Workers were painting, laying carpet and installing lights in the smaller rooms and common areas. The first-floor café, which will be open to the public, was still under construction.
Built inside the shell of the former Polk County Convention Complex at 501 Grand Ave., the Wellmark YMCA will replace the 55-year-old Riverfront Y. The $32 million renovation kicked off in January and includes the addition of an aquatic center with two pools and 1,500 seats on the west side of the building.
Contractors are well into the construction of the aquatic center, but they won't begin digging the pools until next year, Short said.
The Riverfront Y will close Dec. 19. The YMCA of Greater Des Moines is asking $5.5 million for the property at 101 Locust St.
The Wellmark Y will be open to tours from Dec. 20 to 23 and Dec. 27 to 30 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. We asked Short to tell us about the best aspects of the new downtown branch (and what he won't miss about the old one).
Q. What part of the Wellmark Y are you most excited about?
A. The thing that I'm most excited about is the opportunity that the building will present in drawing new people that have never been a part of the Y into the YMCA.
Q. How many more members do you expect to draw?
A. We have about 5,000 members right now, which is about 2,000 families. We're fully expecting to grow over the next two to five years from about 2,000 units to 6,000 to 8,000 units, which would put us at 15,000 to 18,000 members.
Q. Who are the new members you expect to attract?
A. From what I understand, there are about 50,000 people who have access to the skywalk from their homes or their places of business. Plus, within a five-mile radius there are about 80,000 people who have not come to the Y because the Riverfront Y is not necessarily convenient and it is 55 years old. The fact that we have this new tool, the Wellmark YMCA, will draw a lot of new people.
Q. What has been the biggest challenge in building the Wellmark Y?
A. There were a few surprises. We were starting to cut out the escalators and realized, "Oh, yeah, that's what supports the building from falling in the street." So they had to build a new beam at the top of the stairs before they could cut it out. We had to wait, it seemed like forever and a day, because there was some important communications lines that ran from Denver out east that went right under the building.
Q. Where will we find you working out?
A. I play a lot of sports: racquetball, handball, squash. I've been a lifelong basketball player. Basically anywhere. I'm kind of a jack of all trades, master of few.
Q. Lifetime Fitness opened a 166,000-square-foot gym this year in Urbandale. Do you see the Wellmark YMCA as a competitor to those kinds of fitness centers?
A. Obviously, we're not-for-profit. We're about helping change lives. We're not trying to make a buck on somebody who might need to lose a few pounds. The Lifetime Fitness that opened up, that is almost a country club for tennis players. They're more like a country club than they are a health facility like the YMCA, in my opinion. We're not necessarily trying to go after the same clientele.
Q. What do you think people will find most surprising when they come in here for the first time?
A. The one thing is the grandeur is kind of awe-inspiring. To think from where we're standing here to the other end is two short city blocks, so the grandeur is one thing.
Q. What will you miss the least about the Riverfront building?
A. There is a lot that I won't miss. There are a lot of good things about Riverfront, but it's hard to manage from a facilities standpoint; there are eight different stairwells people can get lost in, for example. From a security standpoint, from a functionality and flow standpoint, this will be a big improvement.
At a glance: Downtown YMCA old and new
Square feet: 186,000
Pools: 1 8-lane, 50-meter pool; 1 4-lane, 25-yard pool
Pool seating: 1,500
Track: 8 laps per mile
Basketball courts: 2
Racquetball/handball courts: 8
Squash courts: 2
Food options: Café
Cardio machines: 60 with space for 100
Spinning class bikes: 35 with space for 50
Sets of weight machines: 3
Triathlon training center: Yes
Members: 15,000 projected by 2020
Square feet: About 116,000 (excluding the residential tower)
Pool: 4 lanes, 25 yards
Pool seating: Standing room only
Track: 19 laps per mile
Basketball courts: 1
Racquetball/handball courts: 8
Squash courts: 1 open for use
Food options: 3 vending machines, free coffee
Cardio machines: 30
Spinning class bikes: 20
Sets of weight machines: 2
Triathlon training center: No
Members: About 5,000
Job: Executive director of the YMCA in downtown Des Moines
Education: Bachelor's in exercise science from Wayne State College, master's in sports management from University of Tennessee
Work experience: Executive director of the Riverfront YMCA since June 2013. Previously executive director of the Fairborn YMCA in Dayton, Ohio.
Military service: Nine years in the Air Force