Menard’s gift will build new tennis center for YMCA
Auto racing apparently isn’t the only sport that home improvement magnate John Menard has a soft spot for: On Nov. 3, the Eau Claire YMCA announced that Menard’s family has made a “multimillion dollar gift” to build a new eight-court tennis center on Menomonie Street just west of the entrance to Carson Park.
“It’s our intent that this new facility will provide the Eau Claire YMCA and residents of the Chippewa Valley with continuing opportunities to play tennis year-round,” said Menard, who has been known to play a set or two at the Y. “To me, tennis is more than just a competitive sport, it’s a wholesome, healthy activity that can be enjoyed by friends and families of all ages.”
“To me, tennis is more than just a competitive sport, it’s a wholesome, healthy activity that can be enjoyed by friends and families of all ages.”
– John Menard, hardware chain founder, on why his family made
a multimillion-dollar gift to the Eau Claire YMCA for a new tennis center
The Menard Family YMCA Tennis Center will be built on vacant property the YMCA owns and once considered as the site for a new YMCA. However, the YMCA is now planning to partner with UW-Eau Claire to build a shared activity center on the other side of Menomonie Street. YMCA Executive Director Ken Van Es praised the Menard family’s generosity and said the new tennis facility will complement the future activity center, making coordination easier.
The new facility would replace the 43-year-old L.E. Phillips Tennis Center on Moore Street, near Hastings Way. “The current tennis center has served us well with thousands of kids, adults, and families learning to play tennis there,” says Matt Boughton, Eau Claire YMCA tennis director. “But we believe this new facility will take our tennis program to the next level and provide more opportunities for everyone.” The present five-court facility faces high demand, especially during the winter, when it’s 96 percent occupied during prime hours, Van Es added.
The current tennis center also houses the YMCA’s gymnastics program. Van Es said gymnastics eventually will move to the new YMCA/university facility; in the interim, the YCMA will look for an appropriate temporary space. As part of the agreement, the YMCA will give Menards the Moore Street property.
The new tennis center will require a final site plan and approval from the Eau Claire City Council. While the YMCA’s previous plans to build on the site met with some criticism because of the land’s proximity to Half Moon Lake, Van Es said he is optimistic that the project will be approved. He noted that the tennis building will have a smaller footprint than a new YMCA would have and that a new facility would be an improvement over the site’s current use. If approval hurdles are cleared, construction could begin as early as next spring with a completion date of fall 2016.
Menard, an Eau Claire native and UWEC alumnus, is known both for his home improvement chain, his status as Wisconsin’s richest man, and his sponsorship of NASCAR racing. (His son Paul is a professional racer.) Menard’s gift to the YMCA is his second major public act of philanthropy in recent years: In 2008, he gave $15 million to the emergency department at Luther Hospital, now known as Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire.