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It’s fun to fix up the YMCA

Groups work to restore old building to its former glory

By Jana Mackin 

For decades, the old YMCA building has loomed over downtown Fairmont as an edifice of neglect. While some saw it as a burden best razed to the ground, others, preservationists and community planners, viewed the Neoclassical building as a crown jewel of the Southside neighborhood, deserving restoration to its former glory.

The 112-year old building was purchased by Fairmont Community Development Partnership in 2009, with assistance from Main Street Fairmont and other redevelopment entities. As building owner, the Partnership has made the building focus of preservation and redevelopment plans, and ongoing efforts to secure investment and funding.

While the building  sat abandoned for several years, local officials are now optimistic for new investment in the YMCA/Moose Lodge location, given their recent application for a $120,000 technical assistance grant that would bridge those preservation dreams and designs into brick-and-mortar reality.

Also, recent, favorable changes in the downtown investment climate have been due to such things as employment changes, teleworking, preservation-restoration tax credits and lower real estate prices that help make Fairmont attractive for downtown investment and revitalization, they said.

“This building is an iconic piece of Fairmont,” said Kate Greene, community development professional and former director of Main Street Fairmont. “It is a really fantastic building and has been the focus of historic preservation and downtown revitalization efforts for years.” 

Located at 100 Fairmont Ave., the old YMCA building was built between 1906 and 1908, designed by the Baltimore Architects Baldwin and Pennington. It was built for the local chapter of Young Men’s Christian Association, which later sold it to the Moose Lodge No. 9 in 1940. Subsequently, it was sold to the Partnership in 2009, when it was secured for future investment and redevelopment.

In September,  city council voted to give a letter of support for the Partnership’s mission to receive funding for YMCA project development work through application for a $120,000 technical assistance grant from West Virginia Community Development Hub to the U.S. Economic Development Authority to facilitate building renovation.

Last year, the Partnership secured about $32,000 through three redevelopment grants, which allowed the organization to hire local architectural firm, Omni Associates, to work on project design and specs for the revitalization project.

“This is a big deal,” said Stephanie Tyree, executive director for West Virginia Community Development Hub, who is helping them apply for this technical assistance grant that targets keystone community projects of significant value. “This will help get the project over the finish line from idea to realization.” 

“I see potential written all over this,” Kayleigh Kyle, Fairmont Community Development Partnership executive director, said. “It could be a game changer to keep the ball rolling. It could be a catalyst for community investment.” 

The city has used money from a 2018, $200,000 EPA Community-wide Assessment Grant to conduct a marketing and feasibility study for the historic YMCA and historic Fairmont fire house last year. The results were favorable for investment and redevelopment. Further, the city has completed Phase I and is now into Phase II Environmental Site Assessment of the YMCA property using part of the EPA money, city officials said.

Project Y is a $8.5 million, 40,000 square foot planned mixed-use development with plans to offer market-rate housing, co-working and office spaces, restaurant and other creative reuses for this historic building. City planners and investors said they hope the project will be a draw for further Fairmont investment and revitalization.

“This building is incredibly unique,” said Alex Petry, City of Fairmont program manager of economic development. “From the outside, you would never know what goes on in the inside. There are many surprises in this building. There’s an old wood running track. In the basement are the biggest surprises: A bowling alley and pool. It’s like walking into a portal from the past.” 

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