Kroehler YMCA facility moves closer to sale in downtown Naperville

The YMCA of Metro Chicago moved a step closer to selling the dormant Kroehler YMCA facility in downtown Naperville after the city's Historic Preservation Commission denied a request to grant landmark status to the original structure, which was built in 1910.

The issue ultimately will be decided by the city council. But Thursday's 4-1 vote by commissioners - after nearly four hours of testimony and discussion - demonstrated the majority's belief in a lack of evidence provided by the applicant, Naperville Preservation Inc., that the building should be preserved as a historic structure like the nearby Naperville Women's Club and Old Nichols Library.

YMCA of Metro Chicago officials argued landmark status would negate a pending sale to a developer, which plans to raze the building at 34 S. Washington St. for an unspecified development they say would adhere to the standards outlined in the city's Naperville Downtown 2030 plan.

YMCA officials say a sale of the property will generate at least $1.6 million in revenue that would be used to support other facilities like the Fry Family YMCA location on 95th Street.

"The mission of the YMCA and the significance of the YMCA is the service to the people in the community," said YMCA of Metro Chicago lawyer Scott Day. "The unremarkable structure, that has been evaluated as such repeatedly, is not worthy of landmark preservation."

Naperville Preservation countered the 1910 structure has held historic significance since the city's 3,400 residents raised the equivalent of $784,000 to build the red brick structure and name it in honor of Naperville businessman and two-term mayor Peter Kroehler.

They also said the structure is an iconic design from architects Walter F. Shattuck and Harry Hussey that was used for YMCA buildings throughout the country. In addition to the 1910 structure under discussion, there were two additions at the location built in the 1970s.

Naperville Preservation wants the YMCA to sell to a developer that will adapt the original structure for another purpose.

"We believe that it is very important to leave something of the legacy of the Kroehler YMCA so that it is not forgotten," said Naperville Preservation representative Jane Ory Burke.

The Kroehler facility, which officials said was losing $400,000 a year, closed permanently in June 2020 due to the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I don't like the idea of tearing the building down," Commissioner Erin Franczyk said, "but I also think the mission they are trying to accomplish here is important."

Of the six criteria listed in the city code to grant landmark status, the commissioners decided Naperville Preservation met the standard for the building's being at least 50 years old, having a connection to an important event in local history, and being listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The majority of commissioners said the standard wasn't met for three other criteria.

Mark Urda was the lone commissioner to vote in favor of recommending landmark designation.

"I'm encouraging to push this recommendation forward because history is important," Urda said.

  The Kroehler YMCA in downtown Naperville was built in 1910 after the residents raised the equivalent of $784,000 and named it after businessman and two-term mayor Peter Kroehler. Mark Welsh/
  The original structure of the Kroehler YMCA in downtown Naperville was built in 1910, but two additions were constructed in the 1970s. Mark Welsh/
  The Kroehler YMCA in downtown Naperville closed permanently in June 2020. Mark Welsh/
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