City of Minnetonka one of several possible buyers of the YMCA’s Marsh wellness center

The city of Minnetonka is one of the parties exploring the purchase of Marsh, the longtime health center that the North YMCA is closing next week.

When Y officials announced in October they would close Marsh on Dec. 31, they said the Minnetonka center was not financially viable due to significant membership losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since this fall, the Minnetonka City Council has met twice in closed session to make an offer to purchase the property. City leaders declined this week to release any details, citing ongoing negotiations.

The Y has received 16 proposals to buy the building and hopes to make a decision in the next few months, spokeswoman Joan Schimml said in a statement.

“The Y has carefully reviewed each proposal and determined the most appropriate to maintain the integrity of the facility and property and serve the community,” he said.

The center, which opened nearly four decades ago next to marshland on Minnetonka Boulevard west of Interstate 494, was developed by Deephaven philanthropist Ruth Stricker and her husband, Bruce Dayton, the late retail executive who built Target Corp. and the father of former Gov. Mark Mark. Dayton.

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Before it became trendy to pair physical fitness with mental and spiritual health, Stricker — a former YWCA instructor — championed the approach. He and Dayton call Marsh “The center of balance and fitness” and combines Eastern and Western practices, from tai chi to the treadmill. The center now includes a restaurant, therapeutic pool, spa, physical therapy and fitness center.

Stricker’s family donated Marsh to the Y after his death in 2020. Y officials said most of Marsh’s operations will go to the Ridgedale YMCA and proceeds from the sale will be invested in welfare initiatives to honor Stricker’s legacy.

Christopher Warden, who owns Merz Physical Therapy, which has been in Marsh for nearly 30 years, helped organize a town hall last month to rally support for saving Marsh. More than 200 people participated.

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“There was an incredible amount of enthusiasm,” he said.

Warden participated in one of the 16 purchase proposals, teaming up with real estate developer Chuck Leer to pitch a public-private partnership with the city and maintain Marsh’s current programs and facilities.

“It’s an important part of the Minnetonka community,” said Leer, a longtime Marsh member who worked with Stricker on a previous project there. “I feel very strongly about Ruth’s vision for Marsh. Her vision is needed now more than ever.”

Membership has dropped by half since 2019, and that decline is largely related to the pandemic, Warden said. He hopes the new owner will find a way to revitalize the center to attract more revenue and ensure it is inclusive and not a “country club” for wealthy residents, he said.

“It doesn’t have to be the health club itself,” he said. “Think it’s more than a Mecca for health and healing. That’s what it has potential if it’s preserved.”

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Linda Stewart’s family farm provided produce for Marsh’s restaurant last year. The longtime Minnetonka resident, who attended physical therapy there after hip surgery, said the marshland along Minnehaha Creek offers a unique therapeutic setting.

“The site caters to people who are looking for health and peace,” he said. “It’s different than anywhere else I’ve ever been.”

Mary Pepin first sought out Marsh’s therapeutic pool 34 years ago after a car accident in her 30s. He’s been a member ever since and says the staff members who carry on Stricker’s legacy, the center’s health and wellness goals, and its natural setting all make the facility unique.

“It’s difficult to duplicate. It’s more like going backwards,” said Pepin. “It provides a lot of benefits to the community. It’s a travesty that this facility is closing.”

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