WEST RIDGE — Efforts to save the High Ridge YMCA from closing ended when the facility was shuttered last month — but a campaign to preserve the building as a West Ridge community space is going strong.
The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago announced in December the High Ridge YMCA, 2424 W. Touhy Ave., would be closed at the end of January after nearly 70 years in the community. That announcement sparked a neighborhood effort to save the YMCA.
Hundreds of neighbors joined elected officials at a meeting on the topic last month, and dozens of residents held a rally to save the facility at Touhy and Western avenues. Neighbors held a candlelight vigil to mark the club’s closure.
The club closed Jan. 29, with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago saying the facility had lost half its members since 2013 and was operating at a loss even before coronavirus. Non-profits and community organizations — not to mention gyms — have been impacted greatly by the pandemic.
But neighbors hope to keep the YMCA building as some form of community center.
A new group, called the High Ridge Coalition, has been given two months to find a partner that would buy, operate or redevelop the property, neighbors and YMCA officials said. The YMCA will hold off on listing the property for the duration, said Man-Yee Lee, director of communications for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
“Consistent with these understandings, the YMCA in the coming months will consider the future of the building, including the possibility of a sale of the building, in accordance with its established governance process involving various boards and committees,” Lee said in a statement.
The High Ridge Coalition is looking for developers and community organizations who may be interested in the project, said Mitchell Milner, one of the leaders of the effort.
At least five developers or operators will be pitched on the project, said Milner, a West Ridge resident who is a consultant for affordable housing developments. One group being pitched is Artspace, which sought to build a combination artist work-live space and LGBTQ senior living center in Rogers Park, he said.
Coalition members plan to speak at Wednesday’s Chicago Park District board meeting to float the idea of the parks agency taking on the facility.
“Our goal is to keep the High Ridge [building] as a community center, which describes exactly what it is,” Milner said. “We want to put together a package to bring to the Y.”
The group has the support of Alds. Debra Silverstein (50th), Maria Hadden (49th) and Andre Vasquez (40th), who spoke in favor of preserving the YMCA at January’s community meeting. Silverstein and Hadden have since sat in on a meeting with a prospective partner.
Silverstein said her office and neighbors are in the preliminary stages of seeking a new use for the property. The goal is that it remain a community asset, she said.
“Of course, we want the YMCA to stay,” Silverstein said. “We’re trying to brainstorm who might take that over.”
Neighbors would love to preserve the High Ridge’s pool and gym. But the particulars of the community center are being left to prospective developers and operators, Milner said.
Using as a model West Ridge’s two-year-old Northtown Library, which includes affordable housing, the YMCA facility could be rebuilt with housing to add density, Milner said. It could also be rebuilt as a larger community center to accommodate different uses and revenue streams.
Such efforts have been successful in South Shore, where the local YMCA closed in 2017 but is being redeveloped into senior apartments and a community center thanks to $26 million in city and state financing.
“There’s precedence for this type of development,” Milner said.
The coalition has not been given a price at which the YMCA would sell the building. The two-month period to find a willing partner is, “from a development timeline, quite ridiculous,” Milner said.
Lee said the YMCA building is a “valuable asset” that “would be treated as such.” The existing building needs about $3 million in maintenance, the YMCA has said.
But neighbors hope the building’s next chapter includes a community component, continuing its streak as an inviting space and resource for diverse, working-class West Ridge.
“We’re very concerned for the children to have a place to go, seniors to have a place to exercise,” said Molly Burns, a member of the neighbor coalition. “It would be a shame if it became something for-profit. There’s nothing to replace it.”
For more on the High Ridge Coalition, click here.
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