by Michael R. Allen
On December 5, the Belleville News Democrat carried an article with the title “Reality check for old YMCA building: ‘Unless money is found, nothing’s going to happen'”. The article contains disturbing news from Belleville’s effort to market the historic downtown YMCA building, originally the Belleville Turner Hall (see ““Old Belleville Turner Hall Could Be Yours”, August 7, 2009). From the article:
Jack LeChien, alderman in Ward 7 and the chairman of the YMCA committee, has favored using the building rather than tearing it down; after all, he’s a member of the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission. But he thinks anyone with a strong proposal and adequate financial backing likely would have stepped forward by now.
Alderman LeChien had had a tough job, and has done it well. LeChien reached out to historic preservation blogs, magazines and other publications to carry the Request for Proposals issued by the city. However, the timing of Belleville’s quest to sell the YMCA building has been a problem. Belleville picked the worst possible time for developers to get financing for a large project like the YMCA building. As I wrote to Alderman LeChien in June: “One thing to consider is that the lending climate is still emerging from stagnation and many developers who might be interested could need time to close on financing.”
The fact is that the market is still slow and recovery is not complete. Belleville needs more time to sell the YMCA building, and its leaders should not rush to any conclusions about lack of responses to the RFP.
Also, the RFP posted on Belleville’s website this year was not very strong. The document consisted of a short cover statement and a lengthy report on asbestos issues — not a great marketing package. All old buildings have some asbestos, but not all old buildings have the reuse potential, location and cool interior spaces that the Bellevilel YMCA has. More time and a better RFP are needed.