Virtual reality fitness, a stainless-steel pool and aromatherapy are among the latest health trends that officials say will make it fun to stay at downtown’s YMCA.

The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities has opened a replacement of its flagship downtown facility that stretches across each level of the five-story Gaviidae Common on Nicollet Mall. Inside, the latest wellness innovations, new community partnerships and modern facilities are designed to take the 160-year-old organization into its next chapter.

“We’re focused on innovation. We’re focused on leaning into the future. We’re focused on serving all [and] having an impact so that all can thrive in each stage of life,” said Glen Gunderson, CEO of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.

The Douglas Dayton YMCA, named for the late businessman, YMCA volunteer, Target founder and uncle of Gov. Mark Dayton, takes up 105,000 square feet of the downtown shopping center and a new rooftop deck.

On the first floor is the Power House, a dedicated space for personal training and conditioning that will be visible on the street. Personal trainer Elis Bradshaw said the space will enhance what she does in the rest of the building.

The George Wellbeing Center on the skyway level is a new facility designed around health and wellness and will bring in new classes and programming around lifestyle coaching, nutrition counseling, light therapy, acupuncture and meditation. The center, named for Penny and Bill George of the George Family Foundation, is meant to connect YMCA members with destressing and healing practices that they can do themselves or in their own home. Penny George said in a video message to media that “self-care is the true primary care.”

“Our hope is that we actually can create a healthier America through doing this,” she said.

Members will enter the facility on the third floor where electronic turnstiles have replaced a staffed check-in desk. The entire floor features group exercise rooms, locker rooms and Harmony rooms for yoga and Pilates.

The new Equity Innovation Center will be home to a think tank initiative the YMCA is developing with the Minneapolis Downtown Council to host corporate teams, nonprofits, faith organizations and other groups for events centered on equity and inclusion. The Y’s first simulation room will host interactive programming built by the Science Museum of Minnesota based on interviews and meetings with minority and religious groups.

Dr. Hedy Lemar Walls, senior vice president of social responsibility, said the space is meant to provoke local leaders and workers to think about diversity in their own sector.

“This is not anywhere in the country. This is the first of its kind,” she said.
On the fourth floor is the facility’s free weight and strength training area, a gymnasium and a stretching space. Hydromassage tubs are available as an extra charge. A new four-lane lap pool is made of stainless steel, which Shannon Kinstler, senior director of aquatics, said is to make it lighter. The pool is set to open the week of Feb. 5.

This floor will showcase up-and-coming fitness equipment such as Icaros, an interactive virtual reality machine from Germany that has users flying through snow-covered mountains and working several muscles in the process. A VirZOOM virtual reality exercise bike makes biking into a game with digital trips through race tracks, canyons or battlefields.
“Yesterday, I was on there on a horse trying to catch bandits so I had to speed up to catch them and then lasso them,” said Andrea Krohnberg, senior director of member engagement. “It’s really incorporating technology into the workouts so you kind of lose yourself.”

Craig Paulnock, vice president of digital product strategy and innovation, said these digital workout enhancements help the Y stay relevant.

“This could be the future of fitness, but maybe it’s not,” he said. “Unless we’re trying new things, we’ll always be followers.”

The fifth floor features a Fitscape room with lights and a thumping audio system to enhance group exercise classes. A Summit room for cycling classes can take users through the Alps or other far-off destinations through a screen, which can also show real-time data from each bike. YMCA offices in downtown and Northeast Minneapolis have been consolidated into a large open office with several conference rooms themed around fitness programs like canoeing.

A new rooftop space, technically on a sixth floor, will feature an outdoor studio and deck with views from the core of downtown.

Mayor Jacob Frey said the $30 million renovation, located kitty-corner from the former Macy’s building that is being redeveloped, follows the city’s $50 million investment in reconstructing Nicollet Mall.

“No matter how much money you invest in the street itself, Nicollet Mall will be a bust if it doesn’t have activity surrounding it, and the Y adds significantly to it,” he said in an interview.

Frey said the facility pairs with the work the City of Minneapolis is doing with equity.

“I want to make sure Minneapolis is a thriving city and working for the collective, and it’s very clear that the Y is doing exactly that,” he said.

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