Granite City was already grappling with vacant buildings and other downtown deterioration in 2004, when the YMCA left a monument four-story brick building on Edison Avenue.
Since then, government officials, businessmen and community leaders have worked to turn the tide.
Their efforts were boosted considerably this summer.
Nonprofit development organization completed an $ 11 million renovation on the old YMCA building, turning it into an apartment complex for artists, veterans and others with equal incomes or less than 60% of the region’s median. Tenants are now moving into its 37 units.
âWhen it was a YMCA, I came here to swim,â said Randy Carter, 66, a retired warehouse worker who rents a one-bedroom apartment. âI used to stay in Madison. I come out of a very large house.
Edison Avenue’s new art lofts are part of a larger vision to transform downtown Granite City into a thriving art and entertainment district. Plans call for the complex to eventually include an art gallery and a studio for guest artists.
The renovations were made possible in part by nearly $ 3 million in historic federal and state tax credits, forcing contractors to retain many original features. The 1924 building had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places Four years ago.
The city mainly donated the building to Rise Community Development. The organization is based in Saint-Louis, but it also works on neighborhood revitalization projects in the eastern metro.
The city has owned the YMCA building since 2005, according to the Madison County Assessor’s Office.
“The city has clung to it, waiting for the right development,” said Brenda Whitaker, director of arts, entertainment and tourism. âSo it took a long time to prepare. “
Whitaker also owns three restaurants and is executive director of Alfresco Productions Cultural Center.
The interior had “seen better days”
Rise began renovations to the old YMCA building in early 2020, working with General contractor based in St-Louis Altman Charter Co.
Whereas in possession of the city, the building had been used for United Service Organizations (USO) housing, Halloween haunted houses, and police tactical training. It had also been vacant for long periods.
People crept into the building and painted graffiti on the walls and caused other damage. The rubbish and debris included shell casings from police-fired blanks and coffins and other haunted house accessories.
âStructurally it was in good shape, but the interior had seen better days,â said Mark Stroker, director of real estate development for Rise.
Altman charter coordinated with the architects of Rosemann & Associates in Saint-Louis to create 25 one-bedroom apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments, all with different floor plans.
The resort has an industrial feel, embracing its past as a health and fitness center. Wooden bleachers line a hallway leading to five loft-style apartments carved out of the old gymnasium. They feature original brick walls and maple floors and reproduction lighting reminiscent of the ‘Hoosiers’ basketball era.
Other historic features include the lobby’s black-and-white tiled floor, oak paneling, and reception desk; a stained glass window above the entrance; and a brick fireplace with the triangular YMCA logo.
âWe did it all again,â said Mark Ehlert, project manager for Altman Charter. “It was a mess when we got here.”
The wooden doors lining the hallways on the upper floors have also been preserved. They once led to dormitory-style rooms, where the YMCA allowed unlucky men to stay in the 1920s and 1930s.
The dance studio and racquetball courts have been converted into apartments. The complex also offers a computer lab, exercise room and laundry facilities.
The non-functional glass-brick pool on the lower level will be left alone for now. Officials are hoping that someone will open a cafe or other business in an unfinished commercial space.
Focus on artists and veterans
Edison Avenue Art Lofts is now owned by a private limited partnership, including Associated Bank as principal investor. The complex is overseen by a subsidiary of Rise, Stroker said.
The 37 apartments are rented. They range from 500 to 991 square feet and cost $ 525 to $ 750 per month.
Rents had to be “affordable” since the project received more than $ 6 million in federal tax credits for social housing, as well as loans from Madison County and the State of Illinois.
Renters can be any age as long as they meet the income requirements.
âDevelopment is focused on service to artists and veterans who wish to live downtown, (where) amenities such as town hall, restaurants and cafes, a movie theater and parks are within walking distance, âaccording to a blog post by Larry Perlmutter, communications director and the development of Rise.
An inauguration ceremony is planned soon. Those interested in renting apartments can put themselves on a waiting list by contacting McCormack Baron Management at 618-271-6970 or [email protected]
One person excited about the downtown project is Conrad “Babe” Champion, a longtime Granite City volunteer, 89, a retired teacher and trainer who worked at the YMCA from 1949 to 1956.
Champion was still in high school when he started out in the “boys’ zone”, where men and boys checked their clothes before going swimming in their “birthday suits” (naked). The YMCA even had a boxing ring, helping to produce several Golden Gloves competitors.
Champion ultimately made $ 4,200 per year. He and his late wife, Sue, didn’t have much to spend on their wedding reception in 1953, so the YMCA management allowed them to use a small room for free.
âThe YMCA was the center of everything in Granite City in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,â Champion said.
In 2004, the YMCA of Granite City moved to the former Tri-City Regional Port District, now America’s Central Port, and became the YMCA of Tri-City. Last year, officials announced they were ending health and fitness programs due to COVID-related losses and moving to a youth development center.
This story was originally published September 26, 2021 6:00 a.m.