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New building, new name, same services

The Red Wing Senior Center -- renamed Pier 55 -- will move into the Pottery Place Annex in early August. Red Wing Area Seniors purchased the building with the Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation, which will use the western half to expand its pottery museum. (Republican Eagle photos by Michael Brun)

When Red Wing Area Seniors Executive Director Nancy Swanson talks about the possibilities for the new Senior Center, the excitement in her voice is unmistakable.

"Look at this!" she exclaimed, her words echoing through the cleared out interior of the Pottery Place Annex off Old West Main Street "Think of what we can do here."

After 10 years of looking and two building deals that fell through, Red Wing Area Seniors has found its new home. Along with the move to Old West Main Street, the Senior Center also will have a new name: Pier 55.

"It's not a place so much to dock, but to take off from," said Swanson, explaining the meaning behind the name change.

The word "pier" is fitting because of the building's proximity to Bay Point Park, while the

"55" represents one of the nationally agreed upon ages when someone can be considered a senior citizen.

But Pier 55 is more than a rebranding - Swanson said it represents a new, bolder vision of what the Senior Center can contribute to both local seniors and the Red Wing community as a whole.

To put that philosophy into action, Red Wing Area Seniors will host an appearance by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and Minnesota Twins color commentator Bert Blyleven Wednesday Aug. 14 at the new building.

Swanson said she was watching Blyleven on TV one night with her husband when she first had the idea of asking him to appear at Pier 55.

"And I thought, 'Wouldn't that be fun?'" she said.

She emailed Blyleven and received a call back within a few days.

"Sometimes you have to be a bit of a risk taker," Swanson said. "We need to do things bigger."

Expanding possibilities

The move to the Pottery Place Annex will mean increased hours and greater ease of access for Pier 55's nearly 900 members, as well as provide space to expand services.

"It's going to add dramatically to what the Senior Center can offer," said Ralph Ryan, a member of the Red Wing Area Seniors Board of Directors. He added that the enthusiasm shown by Senior Center staff has been contagious.

"There are just a lot of things we just couldn't do before," Swanson said.

One of the biggest changes will be the possibility of opening the center on evenings and weekends, something that could not be done at the Professional Building and Community Center on Fourth Street..

"That's good for baby boomers to come or bring their parents if they have to work during the day." Swanson said.

The Pottery Place parking lot also provides more spaces and is closer to the building than the current facility, which is important in the winter and for people with trouble walking, she added.

And although the new building is technically smaller - 6,000 square feet down from 13,000 square feet at the old hospital building - it will be utilized more efficiently.

"A lot of the square footage we have currently is rooms that we don't know what to do with," said Swanson, including numerous hallways, stairwells and 27 bathrooms.

The design of the new building calls for a central, multi-purpose gathering space that can be divided into two smaller rooms as needed. It also features a Wi-Fi-equipped cyber training center and three smaller meeting rooms that can be rented out by local organizations.

The adjacent Provenzano's Ristorante, now a tenant of Red Wing Area Seniors, will be able to provide catering services, as well.

"The Senior Center will be geared up to meet the needs of a growing senior population and provide direction to where they can get help," Ryan said.

10 years in the making

The process of moving the Senior Center started more than 10 years ago with a capital campaign that brought in around $185,000.

Since then, Red Wing Area Seniors considered moving into the Jefferson Elementary School building and later Sarah's after that restaurant closed in 2011. But both ideas failed to pan out.

"For one reason or another, the financing or plans didn't work," Swanson said.

In 2010, Red Wing Area Seniors and the Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation - which was looking to expand its museum - started talking about a partnership to purchase the vacant Pottery Place Annex.

"When you see a building like that empty, it's just such a waste," Swanson said. "Especially when we look at what we can do to bring life to this historical district."

Swanson said she hopes the move to Pottery Place will have an economic impact on Old West Main Street.

"We're going to create some activity and enthusiasm over there, and that's exciting," she said.

"The partnership is a fantastic thing," said Ryan, who also volunteers for the collectors society.

"From a volunteer standpoint and as a maturing adult, I'm excited to see people so involved (in both organizations)," he said. "It's good to see people mesh their skills to create something to enrich the community."

More than just a building

Although Swanson said she is excited about the relocation and new name, Pier 55 and its staff will continue to provide the same crucial services for area seniors.

"The new building is important, but what's most important are the programs and services we provide," she said. "I don't want the move to overshadow what we do on a daily basis."

In addition to one-on-one support and counseling, Pier 55 and Red Wing Area Seniors will provide food programs, medical equipment lending and event hosting.

"People will laugh sometimes and say all we do is play cards," Swanson said. "Well, OK, but socialization is important so people don't become isolated and depressed."

Red Wing Area Seniors also helps organize trips for seniors and their families, including the First Train Trip from the Red Wing Depot to La Crosse, Wis.

"It's an opportunity for seniors to keep learning and making memories," Swanson said. "If we can help make those things happen, that's making an impact."

How to help

Pier 55 is expected to open in early August, but a lot of work still needs to be done, Red Wing Area Seniors Executive Director Nancy Swanson said.

Volunteers are needed to help paint, install insulation and put up shelving, as well as move items out of the old building.

To help reduce the amount of stuff needed to be moved, all remaining inventory at the Senior Center's Cookie Jar gift shop is now 50 percent off.

There also is a 25 cent book sale, which started July 15.

For more information on the Senior Center or to volunteer to help with the move, contact Swanson at

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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