State - INACTIVE

In-Shape buys Modesto YMCA building

Modesto's YMCA building will become an upscale private fitness club, those involved with its sale said after the deal became final Thursday.

YMCA board member Dennis Wilson refused to disclose the sale price to In-Shape Health Clubs but said his nonprofit probably will not receive enough to satisfy all creditors. The YMCA's debt had climbed to $2.18 million when the building closed Feb. 28.

The YMCA could regroup and start new programs "on a smaller scale" but likely with a new board, Wilson said.

Half of the YMCA's 91 years in Modesto were spent at the 47,518-square-foot complex at 2700 McHenry Ave., including a gymnasium and two pools where thousands worked out and learned to swim for nominal fees.

When leaders put the building up for sale a year ago, asking $3.595 million, they hoped to make enough to pay off debts, restore depleted endowment funds and begin anew in another location. They dropped the price to $2.95 million about the time they closed a little more than six months ago.

In-Shape intends to renovate before opening and will not close its women's fitness center across the road at 180 Leveland Lane or another club at 1234 McHenry Ave., said company vice president Rob Farrens.

Plans filed at City Hall show one of the YMCA's indoor pools converting to an outdoor pool, plus construction of another outdoor pool and waterslide. The remake could include indoor rock climbing, Farrens said.

"We want to make it real clear; this is not going to be the YMCA," Farrens said. "There will be a metamorphosis. People will come in and say, 'Wow, this doesn't even look like the same place.' We're going to be putting 6 or 7 million dollars into remodeling this place."

Based in Stockton, the company continues to expand despite the recession and now operates 34 clubs in California, including five in Modesto. Company officers "don't do anything unless they're genuinely excited about the prospects and possibilities," said Brian Heron of Prudential Commercial Real Estate, the company's agent since 1997.

A 43-foot tower, apparently for a sign, requires an exception to the 35-foot limit in that neighborhood. The city's Board of Zoning Adjustment will consider the matter on a field trip Thursday.

Wilson said remaining YMCA board members will meet soon with survivors of late community leaders who established funds for needy children, with supposedly untouchable principal. Faced with mounting financial pressures in recent years, YMCA officials nearly drained the Bennett and Babington endowments, once $408,000 strong.

"We're going to replenish the endowments to their satisfaction," Wilson said.

Next on the board's to-do list is negotiating with creditors, he said.

"Then we would start up again on a smaller scale. But we'd get some new board members," said Wilson, adding that he would step aside. "Given what the current board members have gone through the past few years, it'll be good to get some new people on board and start afresh. The last few years have not been fun."

With three nearly full sessions, Camp Jack Hazard — the YMCA's only remaining program, operated on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada — turned a profit this year, Wilson said. Grants from kind-hearted families helped reroof 17 cabins and the camp will survive, he said.

Decentralized Y?

The rest of the YMCA would have to reinvent itself, however, perhaps in a decentralized mode serving other communities throughout Stanislaus County, Wilson said.

Farrens said In-Shape is happy with the building's central location. The company recently sunk $5 million in the renovation of a building in a less favorable location in Stockton that was slightly older than Modesto's YMCA, "and the members are exhilarated," he said.

In-Shape is aware of the nostalgia surrounding the loss of the YMCA, Farrens said.

"We fully understand. It's very unfortunate they got to that point," he said. "But we're in the business for the right reasons. We love people, and we love people being active and having fun."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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