Tens of thousands of members have sought fitness, fun and fellowship at the Eau Claire YMCA in its 68 years on Graham Avenue, but now officials believe the time has come to offer those benefits in a modern facility just a mile or so down the Chippewa River.
The YMCA of the Chippewa Valley has begun approaching potential major donors in the quiet phase of a fundraising campaign seeking to raise $25 million to pay for its share of building a new YMCA that would be part of the planned Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex on Menomonie Street, said CEO Theresa Hillis. The public fundraising campaign is expected to launch in the spring.
“We have a wonderful old building, but she’s beginning to show her age,” Hillis said. “We’re getting ready to go into a 21st century building that will take us into the future.”
The development proposal calls for the $90 million to $100 million Sonnentag complex to include an athletics and recreation facility that would replace UW-Eau Claire’s 68-year-old Zorn Arena, a new Eau Claire YMCA and a sports medicine center operated by Mayo Clinic Health System.
UW-Eau Claire and the YMCA would share 118,000 square feet of space in a fitness and recreation facility that will include a main gym, a kids gym, two racquetball courts, a fitness center, space for aerobics and wellness classes, an indoor track, a child care area, locker rooms and an aquatic center with a family pool and a competition pool where YMCA and university swimming and diving teams would host meets.
YMCA members also would have access to two smaller gyms near the main arena in the event center, Hillis said, adding that the intent is for the new facility to be designed in a much more open, efficient and accessible way.
“I think it’s a great collaboration we’ve got going in the new facility,” she said.
Plans call for a nonprofit called Eau Claire Community Complex to design, build and own the Sonnentag facility. UW-Eau Claire, YMCA of the Chippewa Valley and Mayo Clinic Health System would lease the space they use in the complex and each hold seats on ECCC’s board of directors.
Hillis recognizes the YMCA, as a nonprofit that can’t operate with debt, faces a challenge in raising the necessary funds to start construction next summer — the goal for the entire Sonnentag project. But she expressed optimism the effort will cross the finish line in time.
“People give, and there are a lot of generous folks here,” she said. “The Y is usually built on what the community wants the Y to be.”
UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt also said he believes residents will support the YMCA project.
“Their role in this community is known and loved,” Schmidt said. “People see the impact it makes for children, for everyday working people and for the senior population.”
Hillis also stressed the Eau Claire Y’s history — the city has had a YMCA for 137 years — of serving people of all ages and income levels.
“It’s a gathering place for the community,” she said. “We’re truly a snapshot of the community.”
The Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls YMCAs joined forces earlier this year to form the YMCA of the Chippewa Valley, which employs more than 950 people and serves more than 16,000 members and participants.
The intersection of college students and community members in the shared YMCA facility will be a positive experience for both groups, Schmidt predicted.
“Anything that brings our generations together — anything, frankly, that brings people together — in today’s day and age is especially important. And this facility is all about doing that.”