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'A great day for kids': Holmen's vacant Festival Foods to become Boys & Girls Club, community center

'A great day for kids': Holmen's vacant Festival Foods to become Boys & Girls Club, community center

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Festival Foods building donation

Dave Skogen, chairman of Festival Foods, announces his family's decision to donate the former Festival store at 600 N. Holmen Drive to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater La Crosse and the Holmen Area Community Center. Skogen and his wife, Barb, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people on Wednesday.

HOLMEN — The former Festival Foods at 600 N. Holmen Drive will be converted into an intergenerational community center after owners Dave and Barb Skogen donated the building along with roughly $5 million to get the project rolling.

The gift was announced Wednesday during a celebration at the vacant grocery store — which will soon be home to a Boys & Girls Club, two gymnasiums, a playground, a community center and programming space for the School District of Holmen.

Construction is set to begin this fall and wrap up the following fall, at a total cost of $7 million.

Dave Skogen mug

Skogen

Barb Skogen mug

Barb Skogen

“I look around and see a lot of people my age and older ... and we won’t be here to see the fruits of this stuff as it grows,” Dave Skogen told a crowd of more than 200. “But I can guarantee this will be one beautiful facility. We’re going to fill this place up with kids and adults, and have so many opportunities.”

Barb Skogen had the idea to donate the building, which has sat empty since October 2017, after the couple had difficulties selling it.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse and the Holmen Area Community Center organization were logical places to turn. Volunteers have spent years pushing for a community center in Holmen, though they lacked the funds to support it.

“We found that seniors, young kids and veterans could all benefit from making connections and supporting one another,” said Laurie Kessler, a former counselor at Holmen High School and a member of the community center group. Kessler said it’s especially important for children to have a safe space and positive people in their lives, given the prevalence of mental health issues among teens.

“Many kids don’t feel welcome anywhere — they don’t belong, and they don’t fit in,” she said. “Building positive relationships with kids makes all the difference and provides the foundation they need to thrive.”

Jake Erickson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, said this type of center represents all sorts of possibilities for children: “a place to connect with adult role models who listen, to get academic assistance, to play sports or learn an instrument, to get your first job … to just be a kid and feel good about yourself.”

Holmen community center layout

The planned layout of the Boys & Girls Club and community center that will soon occupy the former Festival Foods store at 600 N. Holmen Drive.

This particular project is also noteworthy, he said, because it will be one of the first Boys & Girls Clubs in the country with an intergenerational emphasis.

While the Skogens are funding a majority of the project, the organizations must raise roughly $2 million to cover the first year of programming and other expenses.

Fundraising will continue to be critical, officials said, because neither the Boys & Girls Club nor the community center are intended to generate much revenue.

The partnership ends months of speculation about the former grocery store, which was replaced by a new location at 123 Hale Drive two years ago, and which was recently appraised at $2 million.

Last July, the Skogens announced plans to sell the building to Jeff and Jackie Voves, who own the v2 Studios production company in Holmen.

The Voves’ vision of a family entertainment center — complete with an obstacle course, bowling alley and adjacent ice rink — never came to fruition.

Leaders from the Holmen Area Community Center organization also had other plans.

Before fundraising stagnated and the Skogens approached them, they intended to build a 16,000-square-foot center on McHugh Road.


Kyle Farris can be reached at (608) 791-8234 or kfarris@lacrossetribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Kyle_A_Farris.