The Friendship Center in Downtown Winona needs more parking as it is the number one complaint from members.
The issue comes mostly because the Friendship Center serves the senior citizens of the area, many of whom have a harder time walking long distances or making it across the street in the time allowed.
Roxy Kohner has been a member of the center for almost 11 years. She said sometimes she will come to the center an hour before an event to wait out a close enough parking spot.
“I have driven by and without a place to park I had to turn around and go back because there wasn’t anything within the walking distance that I can do,” Kohner said. “I have also staked out parking. So I have come an hour ahead of time and I will park and do something in my car till I can watch and see someone pull out.”
Malia Fox, director of the Friendship Center, said this is the most frequent complaint the center gets.
A report from 2018 state there is adequate parking for the City of Winona.
The report titled “Parking Study: Downtown Winona” was created by Walker Consultants. They studied an area of 42 blocks between the Mississippi River, Winona Street, Broadway Street and Kanas Street.
Walker Consultants found that in the study area there were about 4,030 spaces available of which about 3,205 spaces were for public use.
Parking continues to be a problem for the Friendship Center despite the findings in the Walker report.
Winona Major, Mark Peterson, said parking has been an issue for the center since it started 40 years ago.
“The complaints are very real which is why the city has been looking at a solution to solving the problem,” Peterson said. “The past couple of years the city has seriously been considering moving the center.”
There will be a meeting on Nov. 13 to discuss parking further.
There was talk from the city about knocking down the old middle school auditorium and creating a parking lot there.
According to Kohner, that would not fix the problem.
“That is a band-aid because many of us have limited mobility. So even if we do have parking you’re talking two blocks away,” Kohner said. “I won’t be able to go two blocks either. I can go a block if a stretch it, half a block is perfect.”
One quasi-solution the center had was making a deal with Wesely United Methodist Church which is next door to them. The Friendship Center can use the church’s parking area as long as the church does not have an event going on.
The parking the church said the center can use is not reserved for the Friendship Center. It is public parking.
The center has a membership of 1,000 people with an average daily attendance of 125. They also have staff coming in and out of the building every day.
According to Fox, the Main Street Square Development across the street has hindered their membership.
“In the last 6-8 months that this development has been occurring, we are watching our numbers drop for the first time in 25 years,” Fox said.
As they lifted their arms gently and steadily in different directions, the flowing movements of a group of 30 older adults were coordinated in grace and balance.
Tai Chi is one of the most popular classes offered at the Winona Friendship Center that gathers many on a weekly basis, Malia Fox, director of the Friendship Center said.
With more than a thousand members and a great number of programs, the Friendship Center is suffering from a lack of space. This has caused concern among members and administrators at the center.
To accommodate all of its programs, Fox said the center has expressed the desire to move to a different location.
“The process has been going at a slow pace but I see this happening soon,” Fox said.
Back in the 1960s, the Winona Friendship Center was located at the west and east ends of town, then it moved to the Valley View Tower in 1969 as people were starting to show more interest. In 1980, the center opened on the first floor of the Historic Masonic Theater on Main Street and has been there since.
“We needed a more permanent home,” Fox said.
The committee knew the demographic of the center would continue to grow and could have used the second floor of the building as well. That never occurred, Fox said.
During an Engage Winona event a couple years ago, many people said changes at the center were needed. The event revolved around a series of focus groups that asked participants questions regarding issues and problems the community was facing and ways to improve them.
“Out of all the ideas, one of them was to pull a community center together,” Fox said.
According to Fox, this idea would involve children to senior citizens. One of the main goals of the center, which goes along with a new location, would aim to dismiss ageist attitudes and get past culturally driven myths.
“We wanted to break down the myth that some classes or activities are meant for older adults only,” Fox said. “We need to engage with everyone. We can’t know about each other’s issues if we are not in relationship.”
Winona Friendship Center Program Coordinator Laura Hoberg said a new intergenerational development component would allow people of all ages to take part in programs together.
Sometimes, Hoberg said, people think older adults do not want to be connected with younger people. Members at the center see the new multi-generational center as a great opportunity to engage in meaningful and different kinds of interactions.
“There’s a really positive feeling from the community members,” Hoberg said. “Everybody brings different perspectives and ideas.”
A new location would meet some of the center’s needs in terms of changing the layout of the center that, Fox said, is not conducive for the members. In a recent evaluation, Fox said people felt uncomfortable walking through the main hall to access other rooms in the building. Because of the layout, sounds easily travel down the hallway, which might distract members who are taking a class.
Moreover, Fox is aware the center lacks a parking lot and does not provide an easy access to the main door.
According to Fox, the process of relocation may take years.
Some of the concerns include costs involved, and replacement of the center with another potential structure. The center is seeking to relocate either at the East Recreation Center or become part of a collaborative project between Winona Health and the Winona YMCA.
Despite its need for a bigger structure, the center has continued to grow through the years. Being the only structure in the state of Minnesota that is nationally accredited, Fox said, members in Winona have access to the best programs and facilities.
“People rely on us; they feel welcomed,” Fox said. “Their voices are heard.”
Diane Stevens was one of the members following the soft melody playing in the background as she was trying to maintain a straight posture.
For Stevens, Thai Chi was the answer to her physical health.
Stevens has been involved with the Tai Chi class at the Winona Friendship Center for more than 10 years and is taking an arthritis class as well. She said she had to take some time off when she started having serious health problems.
“I was in the back of the room in a wheel chair and worked my way up to the front,” Stevens said. “I wouldn’t be walking if it wasn’t for Thai Chi.”
Stevens said she believes the center could improve its space, because it is currently offering a big room only, where most of the activities take place, and smaller ones that do not fit large groups of people.
Through the years, member Dorothy Duellman has learned how the center operates and noticed how a bigger space would allow instructors to set up activities in separate rooms, without having to rush from one activity to another, she said. Ideally, she would like to see a swimming pool as well.
Duellman has been a member of the center since 2004 and said she visits the wellness center three times a week to keep herself active and plays cards from time to time.
“A lot of the programs help seniors stay more active and healthy,” Duellman said.
With her experience as a long-term member, Duellman said she appreciates how the center is always looking for new, innovative ways to help older adults and support them.
“It’s really a growing organization,” Duellman said.
One of the programs that has been consistent over time is the health and wellness center, which attracts many for exercise programs from yoga mat to zumba classes. Recently, the center has seen a push towards educational programming, encouraging older adults to be challenged not only physically, but also mentally.
About 100 people walk through the building’s main door every day for many different programs, Fox said. Many members today join the center after being in rehabilitation, and hope to continue their healing process there. Others attend the center for their own physical wellbeing.
Although the members bring to the center their own history and interests, for one to two hours of their day, they have the chance to be reunited in one place and take advantage of the center’s numerous programs.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Duellman said. “What I like about the center is that it focuses on keeping people healthy. It doesn’t separate people; it involves them in the community.”