The Future of Springfield’s YWCA Building – Landmarks Illinois’ Statement on the News
Dec. 8, 2016
The historic YWCA building in Springfield is set to be torn down. At its Dec. 6 meeting, the Springfield City Council voted unanimously to move forward with demolishing the building, voting 10-0 to overturn a recommendation by the city’s Historic Sites Commission to reject the demolition permit for the building. Landmarks Illinois considers the future demolition of the YWCA building – a designated historic landmark – a major loss to the city of Springfield, its historic district and local heritage tourism.
The more than 100-year-old YWCA building is on Landmarks Illinois’ 2016 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list. Located at 421 E. Jackson St. in Springfield, the YWCA is a contributing building in a National Register Historic District and is also designated as a local landmark. Built in 1913 by local architect George Helmle, the building became a place of “intense civic pride by the city of Springfield,” where women gathered and progressive activities took place. (Learn more about the history and significance of this Springfield landmark.)
Throughout the city’s review process for the future of the YWCA property, Landmarks Illinois and other preservationists have voiced concerns for demolishing the historically significant building and advocated for its adaptive reuse. Frank Butterfield, Director of Landmarks Illinois’ Springfield office, was most active in the advocacy efforts on behalf of the organization, and connected city officials with two developers who continue to express interest in reusing the building while the city moves forward with demolition.
Following the request for proposals process earlier this year, the city moved forward with a bid from Indianapolis-based developer, Flaherty and Collins, which included plans for transforming the YWCA building into apartment and retail space. Despite this, the city announced mid-negotiations with Flaherty and Collins that it would no longer be seeking rehabilitation of the YWCA and would tear it down. While a deal between the city and Flaherty and Collins appears increasingly unlikely, Springfield’s Economic Development Director Karen Davis reportedly said the city was not ready to walk away from the proposal. Should the proposal fall through, city officials reportedly plan to seek requests for proposals for new developments on the future vacant lot once the YWCA building is torn down.
At the Dec. 6 council meeting, Butterfield stressed how the YWCA building was not, as the council argued, beyond repair, and that it could be rehabilitated and reused in way that benefits the community. Due to its historical significance and the opportunities to reuse the space, Landmarks Illinois asked the council to deny the demolition of the historic landmarked YWCA building. We also asked the city continue to review proposals from developers interested in reusing the building and taking advantage of historic tax credits to pay for the cost of such a project.
“By voting for demolition, the city has foreclosed on the opportunity for private investors to create an attractive and unique contributor to the local economy through the adaptive reuse of the YWCA,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “It is shortsighted to demolish an existing asset that is included in three development proposals and create yet another vacant lot in the historic district, all while advocates have demonstrated that reuse is possible. This vote sets a terrible precedent for the city to lay waste to a property that it designated, through a public process, as having historic value.”
Landmarks Illinois continues to be committed to working with Springfield city officials on integrating historic preservation projects into its economic development strategy. We advocate for preserving special places in our state, places that have a rich history and a story to tell. We believe the YWCA building is one of those places. The loss of the building is significant and irreparable. However, moving forward, we are eager to support the city of Springfield in any effort to preserve local heritage, culture and preserve historic spaces in an effort to embrace the city’s past to enrich its future.
Letter: City hasn’t exhausted options to save the Y building (Springfield Director Frank Butterfield’s Letter to the Editor, The State Journal-Register, Oct. 10, 2016)