Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email [email protected] or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.

To the editor:

I am writing in response to Christine Martens and James Force’s letters concerning the 404 Franklin property that the Woodson YMCA has owned for the last 2 plus years.

I appreciate Christen Martens and James Force’s concern about the building that sites across from the Woodson YMCA’s senior activity center called The Landing. There is more to the story than just creating additional parking.  When we purchased the property back in 2021 it was our intent to figure out a way to best utilize this building to help serve our newly created senior activity center called The Landing which opened in October of 2019.  As I stated the property is located directly across the street from The Landing Senior Activity Center and The Landing was growing by leaps and bounds.  We had already more than doubled our members who were 55 years and older from 1,600 members prior to The Landing opening to over 3,500 members over the age of 55 by December of 2021.  The property had been for sale for over a year when we purchased it and although we did not know what exact function the building would be used for, we knew the location could be excellent to compliment The Landing.  This is also the time that we formed a strategic task force to create a strategic plan on how to continue to handle the large growth that was happening with our senior population.  

As we started the planning process we did a number of things.  We surveyed our Landing members, held focus groups with them and also had an architect look at the 404 Franklin St. property to see what it would take to convert it into user friendly programming options for our senior population.   Unfortunately, what we heard back from our architect was that it was going to be very expensive ($1.5 to $2 million) to get the building ADA compliant and user friendly to run senior programs and in the end, we would only have an additional 1,500 sq. ft. to utilize.

Our member surveys and focus groups feedback also came back with three very common responses.

  •  We love The Landing and the programs and opportunities you are providing for seniors to learn, play, connect and socialize.  
  • There is not enough parking for seniors and it is very hard to get into the building with ease.  
  • It’s noisy when we are in programs because of the busy and loud socializing take place outside the program rooms in The Landing.

The gathering of this information and the development of our strategic planning process took almost a year to complete.  During this time, we saw The Landing continued to grow each and every month just as it still is today.

We determined that in order for us to be able to continue to provide a quality environment and programming for the large numbers of seniors that we are attracting that we would need to develop an expansion plan.  We are happy to now be able to share our expansion plan for The Landing.  It will include expanded programming space, improved parking, and easier access into The Landing with its own dedicated entrance.  The new entrance will be located right off of 4th St., the additional parking will be created on the 404 Franklin St. property directly across the street from the new entrance.  This parking along with the First Presbyterian Church lot which we operate in partnership with the church and with street parking on 4th and Franklin St. will provide over 100 user friendly parking spots for our seniors to enter The Landing.  Along with the new entrance will be an additional elevator and new 3rd floor that will include three new program areas, a commercial kitchen, dining area and outdoor seating and program space.  In total an additional 12,000 sq. ft. will be added to The Landing Senior Center.  

We do not take the raising of the building to create parking lightly but had to weight the much-needed benefit it will provide for a vulnerable senior population in our community.  We have already spoken with our neighbors of the property and will be working closely with them to make sure that they have input on how the landscaping and fencing will compliment their properties.  When the building does go down we will be working with Habitat for Humanity to salvage all materials that they can to reutilize in helping others just as we did with all properties in our last project.     

Please know the Y is here to help serve our communities needs.  We are a non-profit organization that has served this community for 133 years and are proud of the services that we are able to provide, like licensed child care, teaching our children to swim, providing a healthy positive place for families and individuals to spend time and work on a healthy lifestyle just to name a few.  We turn no one away for the inability to afford fees and provide well over $600,000 in financial assistance each year for those who cannot afford full program or membership fees.  

We stepped forward to help meet the much-needed senior needs in our community with the building of The Landing in 2019.  This was made possible by the generosity of the Dwight & Linda Davis Foundation.  Prior to The Landing being built Wausau was the largest city in our state that did not have a senior center in its community.  We receive no funding from the city or county to provide these wonderful services to our aging population.  We are proud of what the special place The Landing has become for the seniors of our community.  The growth has been remarkable and will only be getting bigger.  As I mentioned earlier, we had 1,600-members age 55 or over prior to The Landing opening in the fall of 2019 and today we have over 5,700 members over the age of 55 (the majority of them are 65 to 95 years old) and continuing to growing.  This expansion project will allow us to help meet the need of this growth and for the expected growth in the coming years as our county demographics show. 

Other communities from around the state and country are calling and visiting to learn more about the success of The Landing.  If you would like to learn more about The Landing I encourage you to stop in for a tour and see this special place yourself.

We are excited how this expansion project will help the senior population in our community for years to come and look forward to continuing to help make Wausau a great place to live.

Bryan Bailey

President & CEO, Woodson YMCA