John & Fay Menard YMCA Tennis Center garners a variety of responses from the community

    The new tennis center provides a modern option for the sport but phases out other activities

    More stories from Madeline Peterson


    Photo by Gabbie Henn

    The new eight-court facility on Menomonie Street was made possible by a donation from the Menard family.

    The drive into Eau Claire’s Carson Park is now marked by a controversial testament to the growth of the city. This April, the John & Fay Menard YMCA Tennis Center opened on the corner of Menomonie Street and Clairemont Avenue.

    Considered an upgrade from the former five-court YMCA Tennis Center on Moore Street, the new building offers eight courts for tennis enthusiasts to practice their skills on, according to the Leader Telegram.

    Construction of the building cost about ten million dollars, and was made possible due to a generous donation by local billionaire John Menard and his wife, Fay. Menard is the owner of Menards, a chain of home improvement stores that began in Eau Claire and proliferated across the Midwest.

    While this is undoubtedly a step forward for the Eau Claire tennis community, it hasn’t been without its downsides. The former YMCA Tennis Center was also home to Eau Claire YMCA gymnastics, and as the tennis program transfers over to the new center, the gymnastics program has found itself in an unexpectedly abrupt transitional stage going into the summer.

    For the past year, junior math education student Hayden Schulte has been a gymnastics coach for the Eau Claire YMCA. Schulte said that the YMCA gymnastics program has seen directorial changes since the deal for a new gym was made, which has resulted in some confusion about the future location.

    Because of the recent move, Schulte said the team will temporarily be located at the UW-Eau Claire McPhee Center. Although Schulte said she’s glad they’ll have a place to go for the summer, sharing the gym with multiple other gymnastics programs will make for a less than ideal amount of practice time.

    “We have 150 competitive athletes who will only be able to practice about four hours per week because of scheduling conflicts,” Schulte said. “We’re hoping to move into our own building this fall.”

    Schulte said she’s not yet sure where the new gymnastics center will be located, but is confident that the gymnastics program will survive this period of change due to strong leadership and increasing enrollment rates among the community.

    “The new director is fantastic, and the competitive program is alive and well,” Schulte said. “The move wasn’t great timing but we’re looking at the silver lining and hoping to make the best out of it,”

    However, the construction of the new tennis center has been condemned as well. Musician Justin Vernon, an Eau Claire native known for being the frontman of Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, has also been critical of the tennis center.

    In a tweet made at the beginning of April, Vernon (@blobtower) expressed his “extreme distaste” for the center, calling it “a horrid site; cheap, not-made-in-America Gaude.”

    Vernon has been a major proponent for the development of the Confluence Arts Center in Eau Claire.

    The mixed responses to the tennis center are a reflection of the complexities elicited by development in a growing city. In a location known for its music scene and outdoor offerings, the Menard Tennis Center manages to be a victory, challenge and controversy all in one building.