Milwaukee YMCA to convert Parklawn branch into program-only center

Organization looking to grow reach outside its facilities

The YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee's Parklawn branch. Photo: YMCA

YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee branch on the city’s north side will be converted from a membership branch to a program-only center, the organization announced.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee’s Parklawn branch. Photo: YMCA

The Parklawn branch at 4340 N. 46th St. will continue to offer older adult programming, youth sports, a Feeding America meal program and the YMCA Achievers Program. 

As of Dec. 1, members will have their memberships transferred to one of three other Milwaukee Y membership branches: Downtown, Northside and Rite-Hite.

The Milwaukee Y recently announced it wants to grow its reach by offering its services in more community-based settings and by partnering with other organizations, rather than growing its physical footprint.

Leaders of the organization said the new strategic plan and operating model is a response to the changing needs of the community. Carrie Wall, president and chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Y, likened the change to the health care industry. While patients once primarily visited hospitals, it’s more common now for people to seek care in community-based clinic settings. 

“It’s part of our vision to have fewer full facilities, or hubs, and more of our programmatic partnerships, what I’ll call spokes,” Wall said. “It all depends on where the needs are. For us to be sustainable, we have to think about what are the programs that we currently have and how can we be more impactful?”

The Parklawn branch, which was built in 1996, was the first YMCA in the country to be built in a public housing community. The Y convened Parklawn stakeholders, including the Housing Authority of Milwaukee, neighboring Central City Cyber School and daycare services, to determine how the organization should rethink its model. 

Wall said the Parklawn branch has 300 members, but that doesn’t reflect those who are active at the site. Because YMCA membership gives access to any of the organization’s facilities nationally, many members established their membership at Parklawn but may have moved elsewhere or may use other Y facilities. 

At Parklawn, visitors primarily come for a few key programs, rather than a gym membership.

“We’ll continue to offer those programs,” Wall said. “And they won’t just be offered there. We’re looking at other opportunities to expand our reach. We’re signing a LOI with Parklawn Assembly of God to offer some programming there too. So this is a different model and different way of looking at the YMCA.”

In 2014, the Y sold 70 percent of its owned real estate assets as part of a complex bankruptcy deal that eventually erased $30 million of debt accrued over two decades. Having shed itself of many of its facilities, including three suburban branches that were acquired by the neighboring YMCA of Greater Waukesha County, the organization has more agility to rethink its model, Wall said. 

“We’re one of the only Ys nationally to have gone through bankruptcy, so we’re in a position where we can pivot a little bit differently and transform more quickly than larger metropolitan cities that have many, many large facilities,” Wall said. 

Tony Perez, secretary-executive director of the Housing Authority of Milwaukee, said the transition of the Parklawn branch into a program center “is a more economically sustainable approach.”

“We look forward to continuing to work together to enhance the health and well-being of our residents and the rest of the Parklawn neighborhood,” Perez said.

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