YMCA plans $20 million renovation of Dowd on Morehead

This rendering of the Dowd YMCA by LS3P post-renovation, seen from Morehead Street, reflects its plan for a glass and steel facade that would allow for more views into the facility and out at uptown. The renovation will add 28,000 square feet to the 140,000-square-foot Dowd.
This rendering of the Dowd YMCA by LS3P post-renovation, seen from Morehead Street, reflects its plan for a glass and steel facade that would allow for more views into the facility and out at uptown. The renovation will add 28,000 square feet to the 140,000-square-foot Dowd. YMCA CHARLOTTE

When the Dowd YMCA opened 55 years ago on Morehead Street, it served only men, uptown’s current boom was decades away, and no one had ever heard the term “Crossfit.”

Now, shifting demographics, an aging building and new fitness trends are pushing YMCA of Greater Charlotte to renovate its flagship location. The organization plans to spend $20 million to remake the building, consolidating its offices above the gym and adding a parking deck, more workout and class space and a new glass and steel facade.

“We’re working to make sure we’re set up for the next 55 years,” said Chris Orr, executive director of the Dowd. The tower originally had residential units on its upper floors, which it no longer does, and Orr said it looks a bit like an old hotel. The renovation will add 28,000 square feet to the branch, which now is about 140,000 square feet.

Dean Jones, senior vice president of financial development, said this is the biggest project YMCA of Greater Charlotte has undertaken in years. The Stratford Richardson YMCA in West Charlotte cost about $10 million to build, and a new YMCA in Denver cost more than $7 million.

The Dowd is the YMCA’s third-largest local branch, behind the Harris and Siskey branches. But it receives the most visits per day.

“This is a huge project for us,” Jones said. He said the YMCA considered touching up the facility but decided it’s time for a full redo. “You could go in and do some paint and carpet. The team over the years made it look cosmetically as good as it can.”

The gym will remain open during the renovations, Orr said, although there will likely be some inconveniences for customers as the overhaul moves through different phases. The YMCA has commitments from private donors for about $10 million and hopes to raise the balance by the end of the year. After that, the YMCA will start construction and expects the project to take about 18 months.

The Dowd renovation project is part of a slate of sweeping changes coming to Morehead Street. Next door to the Dowd, Beacon Partners plans to demolish a three-story office building and build a new, seven-story building at 500 E. Morehead St. The YMCA has office space at the Beacon building that will be demolished and is planning to move out.

Crescent Communities and Terwilliger Pappas are building apartment complexes with almost 500 new units on Morehead, CitiSculpt is building a 70,000-square-foot office building, and Trinity Capital is considering a 14-story office tower at Morehead and South Tryon streets.

“We’d love to be moving on this project at the end of the year,” Orr said. “We’re just running out of space.”

Here are some key facts about what the planned Dowd renovation will include:

▪ The new parking deck will bring total spaces at the Dowd YMCA to about 600, nearly double the current number. The current parking lot and nearby overflow parking are typically crowded, especially at peak hours. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people use the Dowd each day.

“It’s a challenge we’ve had that’s been a longstanding concern,” Orr said.

▪ The front of the building will be extended out toward Morehead Street, adding 28,000 square feet of gym space on two levels. The new space will include room for more equipment, studios for classes such as yoga that are now held in gymnasium rooms, open space for “functional exercises” (think Crossfit-style workouts) and space for people to stretch.

“We’ve got equipment everywhere in the current facility,” Orr said. “People are putting out stretching mats and stretching pretty much wherever they can.”

Also, the Dowd’s membership has gone from being all male to more than half female. That means there’s a need for more female-oriented space such as in the locker rooms.

▪ An expanded child care area, to appeal to the growing number of young families in the area.

▪ A glass-and-steel facade, with views of uptown’s skyline and the ability for people passing by to look inside.

▪ An overhaul of the “behind-the-walls” equipment in the building systems, such as heating and air conditioning.

▪ Renovated office space in the tower above the gym area. The YMCA will consolidate its corporate space in these offices.

“We’re going to be busy the next couple of years,” Jones said.

YMCA planned for Ballantyne Corporate Park

Besides the Dowd overhaul, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte also said Monday that it plans to build a new gym at Ballantyne Corporate Park.

The facility will be called Sara’s Y, after Sara Bissell, the late wife of Ballantyne developer H.C. “Smoky” Bissell. YMCA spokeswoman Molly Thompson said Sara’s Y should be complete by the second quarter of 2016.

Sara’s Y will be located at the corner of Brixham Hill Avenue and Ballantyne Corporate Place and is planned to have 24,000 square feet.

Dowd renovation highlights

▪ Adds a parking deck, almost doubling the number of available spaces.

▪ Expands workout space, with new studios for classes and a glass-and-steel facade.

▪ Overhauls the office space in the tower above the gym, allowing the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to consolidate its corporate offices there.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer