The Women’s Center for Advancement has purchased a new headquarters in the burgeoning Blackstone neighborhood — a step that will triple space for the century-plus-old agency that battles sexual assault and domestic violence.

In turn, the $1.5 million sale of the current WCA home at 222 S. 29th St. to Mutual of Omaha further makes way for a separate and future development effort expected to encompass that corner and surrounding land.

Mutual, under an entity called Turner Park North LLC, for three years has been assembling and clearing parcels east of its corporate headquarters and Midtown Crossing, on both sides of Farnam Street. Mutual developed Midtown Crossing.

The insurance giant does not plan to extend its footprint by developing the swath that now includes the WCA building, said Ken Cook, who heads Mutual’s real estate arm. Rather, its intent is to create an attractive slate for a developer to come in and reshape into a business park or commercial campus.

A more specific plan has yet to be announced.

WCA is expected to move into its new building in December 2017, a time frame that allows the existing tenant at 3801 Harney St. to relocate and a $7.5 million makeover to be completed.

At its current location, which covers nearly an acre, the WCA had been among a few nearby holdout property owners in the tract that Mutual is piecing together for redevelopment.

The group’s leaders said early on that they liked the digs they’d been in since 1981 because of the proximity to the courthouse and other downtown services vital to the agency’s work. Plus, they didn’t want to add confusion to a name change that in 2011 dropped the Y from the YWCA name, along with a longtime affiliation with the nation’s oldest women’s group.

Lots has happened, though, since that resistance three years ago, including a jump of 35 percent in the number of clients served by the WCA and a 40 percent increase in staff.

“We just really have outlived that building,” said Amy Richardson, who was hired in 2013 as president and CEO. “Our collaboration space is extremely limited.”

As a sign of the squeeze, staff members at the existing 13,000-square-foot WCA building are forced to push aside office furniture to make room for activities such as yoga therapy. There’s no real play or study area for children of parents seeking help; it’s a juggling act to schedule meetings with community partners.

Meanwhile, the WCA last year clocked 17,300 hours with clients, up 50 percent from the year before, said development director Emily Andres.

Advocacy, self-sufficiency and immigration legal services each grew by about a third. And, Andres said, people taking part in prevention and education programs also jumped during that year by 54 percent.

Richardson said increased public attention in the past few years about the danger of domestic violence has contributed to the spike in services.

Looking forward, the agency’s strategic plan calls for continued focus on on-site training and community activities that increase awareness of where to seek help.

“It does not look like we’re going to be seeing fewer people,” Richardson said. “And we really think this was a good opportunity for us to look at a place where we could have enough room, really have a nice quiet space for working with people who have had extreme trauma.”

The new building is only about 10 blocks away from the existing WCA, and is to be gutted and tailored to the agency’s needs. The exterior also is to be improved.

Clients should see improved care, Richardson said, with the addition of welcome and waiting areas, classroom space and room for community gatherings. Therapists and other community partners from outside agencies will have more space to meet with victims on site, she said, promoting a team and “one-stop shop” concept that eliminates victims having to go from place to place.

Before deciding to move, the WCA looked at options — ranging from adding a floor to tearing down and building anew — to stay at 29th and Farnam. “We could not make it work,” Richardson said.

A capital campaign is underway to pay for an anticipated $7.5 million in renovations, with a more public fundraising phase to be announced at the start of next year. The WCA paid $2 million for the structure, Richardson said.

The current tenant of 3801 Harney St., Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare, a multicounty government agency, will be relocating and leasing space in the former Millard Refrigerated Services headquarters near 132nd and L Streets, said spokeswoman Patti Jurjevich. That move is expected to take place in April.

Richardson said the WCA’s facility upgrade reflects community support for the agency’s mission, which she said is better carried out in a place that’s welcoming and accessible to victims.

“They’ve already been through enough trauma and deserve not to be shuffled around from room to room, in and out of dark places,” she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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