Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Keith Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUSTA — Despite a nearly three-year reprieve from its previous appointment with a wrecking ball, the historic former YMCA building is on the eve of destruction.
The setting sun glints off the front of the former YMCA building on Tuesday in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Graffiti on the lobby walls is visible through the front door of the former YMCA building on Tuesday in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Developer Lon Walters, who bought the building at auction in 2006, filed Tuesday for a demolition permit and has informed city officials he intends to demolish the building.
“The old YMCA is a beautiful building,” Walters wrote in a letter to City Manager William Bridgeo. “I would have loved to find a practical use and seen it restored. Regrettably, at this time I need to move forward with demolition of the building.”
Walters originally received a permit to tear the building down in 2008 but delayed demolition, in an agreement with the city, in hopes a new use, or new owner, could be found.
Preservationists fought to keep it standing, with the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission spending about $10,000 of its own money to heat the building.
Walters filed paperwork with the city codes office Tuesday seeking a new demolition permit.
The permit could be granted and demolition could start as soon as today.
Phyllis vonHerrlich, historic commission member, plans to go through the building today to document it before it is torn down.
“It’s just criminal,” she said of the building being demolished. “I’m so sad.
“Some people just think it’s an eyesore. But they’re missing the symbolic importance of that building.
And they don’t know their history. It’s a classic. It could be a perfect place for housing, especially student housing, or offices — anything. Now, it’s probably going to be nothing but a big, empty parking lot.”
The YMCA building was built with money donated in memory of Gov. John Fremont Hill, a nationally prominent politician who served as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Hill’s family donated money for construction, and the local business community contributed money to outfit the building. Since then, thousands of children and adults have passed through its doors to use the pool, gymnasium and other facilities.
“It was an integral part of the community from 1914, when it opened, until it closed,” vonHerrlich said.
The 30,000-square-foot building on 1 acre is listed with Sprague and Curtis Real Estate for $885,000.
The city assesses the site for tax purposes at $202,500, with the building accounting for $100,000 of that value.
Walters bought the building for $214,500 at a public auction in 2006. He said he has not been able to come up with a feasible redevelopment plan, nor find any potential buyers.
“Unfortunately, economic conditions the past several years and currently have made it impossible to move forward,” Walters said in his letter to Bridgeo.
“The empty YMCA building has continued to deteriorate. It has been a challenge to protect against break-ins. I’m concerned that an excessive snow load on the roof this winter could collapse the building. I just have too much liability exposure with no hope for redevelopment opportunity anytime in the near future.”
Walters could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“Certainly Mr. Walters has been patient,” Mayor William Stokes said. “It’s unfortunate a landmark is going to have to be taken down. I don’t know the economics of it, but surmise the cost of renovating that space is so substantial it would be very difficult to get a tenant in there.”
Stokes noted the site is at a prominent intersection where proposals have been made to renovate and expand Lithgow Public Library and build a new county courthouse.
The YMCA sold the building in 2006 after opening a new $10 million Y on Union Street on property that had been owned by the city.
VonHerrlich said the city erred in giving the YMCA the Union Street property for $1 and not getting the old building, or an easement to protect it, in exchange.
She said the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but she believes it could be, if nominated.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647
click image to enlarge
This postcard image from about 1914 shows Augusta’s YMCA building.