The Stoughton Area Senior Center is considering expanding into part of a building complex the city has been renting to businesses.
The City of Stoughton owns the entire property at the northeast corner of Main and Page streets, and the senior center occupies the building closest to the Yahara River. The building closest to the intersection – referred to as the annex – contains five businesses, and at its Oct. 27 meeting, the Common Council voted to align their leases to expire on the same day, Sept. 30, 2021.
That could be the first step in clearing the building.
Two days later, the city sent the tenants a notice to inform them that it would not automatically renew the lease agreements and that it planned to present potential new lease agreements to the businesses by July 31, 2021, if the senior center doesn’t expand.
Any decision on whether to end the leases and expand the center would be reviewed by both the Finance committee and the Commission on Aging before going to the council.
Senior center staff have been discussing a potential expansion for years, but social distancing protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic mean even less space to work with.
Among the considerations are the income from the tenants – an estimated $29,700 annually – revenue and the idea of displacing five Main Street businesses, according to documents prepared by the city’s finance department.
The five tenants are Thrivent Financial Services, Community Living Connections and three individual studios – Stoughton Hairstyling, massage therapist Lisa Resch and physical therapist Jennifer Britain.
Thrivent Financial has rented 662 square feet of space for more than 20 years and Stoughton Hairstyling has rented since February 2004.
Mayor Tim Swadley said the discussions of expansion are in the very beginning stages, but he hopes the city can meet the needs of both its seniors and business owners.
“I’m a business owner,” he told the Hub, referring to Stoughton’s Pizza Pit restaurant. “I know what it’s like to have a business that is thriving and I worked in businesses that didn’t make it through a recession. I’ve seen both ends of it. Personally, I know it is painful to go through that.”
Senior center director Cindy McGlynn is expected to provide information to city staff over the next month on why the senior center needs to expand. She pointed out to the Hub that Stoughton has the largest per capita population of seniors in Dane County and the senior center serves anywhere from 100-200 people a day, she said.
“We started a yoga class many years ago that outgrew the space immediately and had to go off site,” she said. “The idea of any kind of yoga, tai chi, any stretch or strength classes – we don’t have the space for them.”
She also said the current space has little room for classes. The main floor has reception, a computer area, a kitchen and space for tables; the second story has staff offices, and the basement features small rooms – most of which can accommodate six people at a time.
And while the center is closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, social distancing precautions could last beyond the worst of the pandemic. Constructing a new senior center facility isn’t practical, she added, noting the building is landlocked with no room for an addition.
Two weeks after the council’s vote to align the leases, four of the five tenants attended the the Tuesday, Nov. 10, Common Council meeting. Britain, the owner of Blue Wing Physical Therapy, spoke on behalf of the group, pleading to allow them to stay.
“Small businesses have a hard time keeping their doors open for many reasons,” she said. “Our businesses have taken on the product, market and financial risks, and we’ve made it work. We would like to continue to provide our services to the people of Stoughton and potentially bring in new clients to town.”
Alders had agreed on a 7-5 vote during the Oct. 27 meeting that regardless of whether the city decides to end the leases, having them end at the same time made administrative sense. Alds. Tom Majewski (Dist. 3), Sid Boersma (D-1), Ben Heili (D-4), Regina Hirsch (D-3) and Fred Hundt (D-4) voted against the resolution.
Majewski suggested the resolution’s wording – that part of the reason was administrative work – was disingenuous.
“I’m glad to finally hear that you are coming out with the true reason for the syncing of all of the rentals and not using easing of administration as an excuse … Thank you for the transparency on that.”
“Don’t insult people,” he later added.