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RACINE — The Community Development Authority voted unanimously on Monday to declare the YMCA, 725 Lake Ave., a blighted property.

YMCA declared a blighted property
The former downtown YMCA, 725 Lake Ave., has been declared a blighted property. – Credit: Emma Widmar

The declaration is the first step necessary for the city and ultimately the CDA to acquire the building and raze it for the purpose of blight elimination and possible future development. The issue will be before the Racine City Council on Tuesday (Sept. 19).

At this point, there is no estimated cost for the demolition.

The YMCA sits on prime real estate overlooking Lake Michigan on the south side of downtown, but it has been closed and on the market for four years.

In that time, the building has been vandalized and has become a hub for criminal activity. The Racine Police Department received 62 calls for service there last year.

Public agrees the YMCA building is a problem

The committee room was packed with folks wanting to address the issue. Everyone agreed the building was a problem; though, there was much disagreement as to what should be done about it.

YMCA declared a blighted property
The property has a history of people using the grounds for shelter. – Credit: Emma Widmar

The primary concern for those in the neighborhood is the property has been a magnet for vandals and people looking for shelter.

Laura Sumner Coon, executive director of the Racine Literacy Council, described what it was like to work directly across the street from the former YMCA. She said there are always people in the area who are a concern, and the safety of the staff has become an issue.

She supported the city in acquiring the building and razing it.

A resident who lives directly across the street agreed and said, “I firmly support this,” in reference to the city acquiring the building and razing it.

He said there were always people lurking about the neighborhood connected to the property, and he expressed his concern that the situation would only worsen.

“The city won’t grow if we continue to have eyesores like this,” he said.

Let someone else pay for the project

While everyone agreed the property was a problem, not everyone agreed it was a problem for the taxpayers of Racine.

YMCA declared a blighted property
Graffiti can be seen even in hard-to-reach places. – Credit: Emma Widmar

One speaker pointed out the city’s history of buying buildings and demolishing them to make way for redevelopment was not exactly stellar. She pointed to the former Walker Manufacturing site and Machinery Row, both of which remain undeveloped.

Get those developed, she suggested, before acquiring more property with dilapidated buildings the taxpayers will have to pay to have demolished.

Ken Brown, a downtown business owner and chairman of the Racine County Republican Party, agreed the building was a problem but felt the taxpayers should not be on the hook for the cost of demolishing the building.

He promoted the free market and suggested more time should be given for developers to acquire the property.

One speaker said a developer was interested in the building and in fact, there was a contract.

Maxwell Love, communication specialist for the city, said he could confirm there was no current contract for the YMCA property.

That’s prime real estate

YMCA declared a blighted property
Broken windows abound in the YMCA building. – Credit: Emma Widmar

The CDA only met to determine the blight status of the building, but people were eager to share their vision for the property.

Two participants said they would like to see something for families there or perhaps another YMCA.

However, others felt that prime location would be best suited for development.

One speaker said the location – with its uninterrupted views of Lake Michigan – was a good spot for market-rate apartments.

However, another speaker pointed to other Wisconsin locations, such as Lake Geneva, and said the spot would be nice for shops and restaurants.

Potential developers

The YMCA was built in 1960 and closed in Feb. 2019.

At the time of the closing, there was a developer interested in the property. West Allis-based Cardinal Capital Management and Kenosha Land Quest sought to demolish the buildings, build something for the YMCA to use and lease it back, while the rest of the property would be developed for other uses.

However, that deal fell apart in Sept. 2019.

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