Port looks to Harbor Campus for new senior center site

City, company working on plan for new facility that would also serve community

PORT WASHINGTON OFFICIALS are working with Capri Communities, which owns Harbor Campus (right) on a plan to create a joint senior center-community center on four acres of land owned by Capri just south of its current building.
Ozaukee Press staff

The City of Port Washington is looking at replacing its senior center, working with Capri Communities to create a facility on the company’s Harbor Campus that would potentially include not only the senior center but a community center as well.

The initiative, one of four announced during a Common Council meeting earlier this month, would be a way to replace a senior center that is difficult to access with a state of the art facility built with an eye toward seniors’ needs, Mayor Ted Neitzke said.

The current senior center is in a renovated church that’s in an out of the way location with limited parking, he noted.

Selling the current building and using the proceeds to help construct a center tailored to seniors “would be terrific,” especially since the city’s population is aging, Neitzke said.

And combining it with a community center could create intergenerational opportunities that would benefit people of all ages, he said.

The proposed public-private partnership with Capri is an exciting opportunity, City Administrator Tony Brown said, adding, “I think it’s kind of fun to see opportunities.”

Jim Tarantino, owner of Capri Communities, said the company had planned to construct affordable housing on the roughly four acres just south of its current building but due to costs the project has been put on hold.

Using that land for a senior center or a senior and community center is something the company is willing to explore with the city, he said.

Pam Schlenvogt, regional director of operations for Capri, said that when Neitzke called to propose the idea of a collaboration, Tarantino was all in.

“This is in the very, very beginning stages,” she said. “It’s very early. But this community center and senior center is a wonderful opportunity.

“We want to have a world-class community center that specializes in seniors.”

Public-private partnerships like the one proposed are becoming more common today, she added.

Ald. Pat Tearney said he likes the proposed location but said the city needs to make it more than just a senior center by ensuring there are activities that will appeal to people of all ages.

An intergenerational facility could be valuable, Tearney added, noting seniors could serve as mentors to teens and children at the community center.

Aldermen Deb Postl and John Sigwart are leading the effort to study the issue with an eye toward opening a facility in the summer of 2025.

“This is so exciting,” Sigwart said, noting he was part of the committee looking for a senior center location before the current center was purchased by the city, and the preferred site was the Harbor Campus property.

“Our time to do this is now. Capri is willing to work with us, and there’s always been a desire to find a place that was more inviting to the seniors,” Sigwart said.

“It’s a central location. There are already seniors there.”

While the current center works, it’s not an inviting place for seniors, Sigwart said.

“The center has functioned. It just hasn’t blossomed,” he said.”We have an opportunity now to figure out what seniors want to have.

Part of the study should be looking at what other city services could potentially be incorporated into the building, Sigwart added.

Senior Center Director Catherine Kiener said a joint senior center-community center would benefit the entire city, noting programming for community programs could take place in the evenings when seniors aren’t using the facility.

But the city needs to make sure everyone feels welcome, she said, noting the senior center has tried to incorporate programming for more than just seniors.

“A lot of people say, ‘It’s a senior center so it doesn’t apply to me,’” she said. “If they see people of all ages coming in, they might be more likely to come in too.”
A new facility also needs to take into account the fact that today’s seniors are much more active than those of even a decade ago, Kiener said.

Sigwart and Postl held two meetings with seniors recently to kick off their study, asking what they would want in a new center if the sky was the limit.

“If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it,” Postl said. “This is an idea right now. We’re at ground zero. To date, no decisions have been made whatsoever.”

Last year, she said, the senior center logged almost 13,000 visits from seniors.

“This is a popular, very busy place. We have to do more than we’re doing,” she said. “The seniors of today are not the seniors of yesterday. We want to contribute to society and, most important, we want to have purpose.”

The seniors listed things they like about the current center, including the people and variety of offerings, the meals program and staff, book exchange and health services, but when asked if they like the building, no one said yes.

The list of things they dislike was equally long, and included the lack of lighting, parking, small rooms, a choppy layout, lack of internet access and a lack of accessible bathrooms on the lower level.

The seniors came up with an expansive list that included a large gym and pool, multiple kitchens, a multi-media room, protected entrance, more parking, a ping pong and pool room, outdoor recreational area, walking track, stage, sauna, coffeeshop and multipurpose meeting room.


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