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Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls YMCAs to merge

A merger of the YMCAs in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls is expected to be completed next year.

The boards of directors of the Eau Claire YMCA and the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA announced Friday in a joint statement to members that they plan to join together to form one YMCA serving the Chippewa Valley region.

“This is absolutely good news,” said Theresa Hillis, CEO of the Eau Claire YMCA and interim director of the Chippewa Falls facility. “We’re both strong, healthy organizations with no debt, so this is just a great way of kind of combining forces.”

The union, which has been under consideration since this summer, is not expected to result in any program or staffing changes at either building, according to the statement signed by Rolly Enderes, board president of the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA and Scott Lau, board president of the Eau Claire YMCA.

“A task force of the Boards from both Ys is conducting a thorough review of programs and operations. This will be complete in 2019, when both boards will vote to become one,” the statement said. “We expect the consolidation to become effective by the end of 2019.”

The combined organization will have more than 13,000 members, more than 500 employees and estimated revenue of $9 million.

“This represents a coming together of talents and ideas that will allow us to fulfill our commitment of serving more people, improving their health and well-being, and strengthening our cause in our local communities,” Lau said in a news release.

Enderes also said in the statement that he is excited about the potential of the combined YMCAs to expand their impact in the region.

After the consolidation is complete, the facilities at 700 Graham Ave. in Eau Claire and 611 Jefferson Ave. in Chippewa Falls will share a joint board of directors but each maintain its name. A new association name will be developed to represent the combined organization.

The two buildings are less than a half-hour drive apart and already offer member reciprocity that allows members of either YMCA unlimited access to the other facility, so a merger seems like the next logical step, Hillis said.

“It just makes total sense,” she said, noting that the collaboration may enable the two facilities to save money through shared resources or joint purchasing of services such as group insurance.

In October, the Chippewa Falls YMCA parted ways with its executive director, Jennifer Sherbinow, who had led the organization for 12 years.

The deadline for applications for a new center director was Friday, and interviews are expected to start in early January, said Hillis, who will serve as CEO for the merged nonprofit organization.

The Eau Claire YMCA is 136 years old, and the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA was founded in 1980.

Development planned for South Barstow block

A downtown block comprising a mix of houses and office space would become a five-story, 120-unit senior housing complex that would include a grocery store/deli, said the company planning the project, JCap Real Estate.

The Eau Claire-based developer has proposed the Wilson Square mixed-use development on 1.61 acres on downtown’s south side on a block encompassed by South Barstow, Seaver, Emery and South Farwell streets, JCap Real Estate President Brian Johnson said.

“We are very excited to be adding to the energy of downtown,” Johnson said, noting the project is projected to add 49 jobs. “Our market studies say senior living facilities are in high demand,” Johnson said.

The upper four floors would comprise senior living apartments, while the first floor would include commercial space Johnson said will be home to the Bodega grocery/deli that will be operated by a local resident. That level also will include 12 memory care apartments and administrative, dining and fitness areas for the senior living center.

A Nov. 2 letter submitted to the city by Advanced Engineering Concepts of Eau Claire spells out other details of the proposed development that would include surface and underground parking. It would total 146,069 square feet of new building space, including the underground parking level.

Construction of the proposal would require the demolition of two homes and three businesses — those at 707, 709 and 715 S. Barstow St., 316 Emery St., and 708, 710 and 720 S. Farwell St. The building at 705 S. Barstow St., which houses Body Focus Massage Therapy, would remain standing.

Those buildings would be torn down in February, Johnson said, and construction on the new facility would begin the following month. The project is scheduled to be completed in summer 2020.

Before that can happen, the project must receive the go-ahead from Eau Claire city officials. They continue to review the proposal, and so far associate city planner Ryan Petrie said he doesn’t see any red flags. The project was delayed because the initial application did not include paperwork required to vacate an alley in the building site, he said.

City staff plans to make a recommendation about the proposal in early January, Petrie said. The city Plan Commission is scheduled to discuss it on Jan. 14, and the Eau Claire City Council could vote on it as soon as Jan. 22.

Plan Commission and City Council approval would be required for the project’s site plan, for vacating the alley and for a rezoning of the property from central business to central business/planned development.

“We are still looking at the details of this, figuring out everything,” Petrie said.

The project would be the first substantial redevelopment on downtown’s lower south side in recent years. Shift Cyclery & Coffee Bar, at 615 Graham Ave., opened in spring after its owners refurbished that building, but it did not involve new construction.

Revitalization on downtown’s north side and upper south side has been occurring for nearly two decades, starting with the transformation of Phoenix Park from a Superfund site into a scenic park that attracts people to summertime music events and other activities and is home to a thriving farmers market. Since then apartments and commercial redevelopment, including two hotels, has happened, followed by the Sept. 22 opening of the $60 million Pablo Center at the Confluence.

“This would really be the first new major reconstruction on the (far) south side of downtown” in recent years, Petrie said of the JCap plan.

Earlier this month the Third Ward Neighborhood Association heard a presentation about the project. Association members are scheduled to discuss the issue Jan. 9 and decide whether to support or oppose the project.

Neighborhood association members recognize that the proposal offers an opportunity to increase density in that part of downtown, “and this project may comply with that vision,” association President Kevin Rosenberg said.

JCap is involved with multiple other building projects in Eau Claire. The developers have built rental units in the Randall Park neighborhood in recent years and two years ago proposed a major residential project just east of The Local Store along Galloway Street. Work has not started on that effort, although Johnson said JCap hopes to identify a project by the end of next year that would work at that location.

The company also bought the former Wells Fargo bank building at 204 E. Grand Ave. and planned to sell it as part of a deal with Foxconn to locate an innovation center downtown. Foxconn has purchased space in the Haymarket Landing building downtown, but no deal on the bank building has been reached, Johnson said.