Kroehler YMCA cleared for demolition, sale after Naperville City Council rejects landmark request

The Naperville City Council rejected a request to grant landmark status to the original structure of the Kroehler YMCA, backing a recommendation from the city's Historic Preservation Commission and clearing the final hurdle for the downtown site to be razed and sold to developers.

While the 8-1 vote saw only Councilman Patrick Kelly support the landmark designation, other council members expressed disappointment that more couldn't be done to save the structure that was built in 1910. It sits between two buildings previously granted landmark status - the Old Nichols Library and the Naperville Women's Club.

"Even more important than the pure aesthetic of the one building, to me, has always been where it sits in that block in between two other designated landmarks," Kelly said. "Just that whole presentation coming into the downtown from the north is an important aesthetic to me that will be lost in short order, which I think is a shame."

Despite the effort by Naperville Preservation Inc. to save the structure at 34 S. Washington St., the YMCA of Metro Chicago is now free to clear the property and sell to an unnamed developer the organization has lined up. YMCA lawyer Scott Day said the deal would fall through if the existing buildings could not be demolished.

The Kroehler YMCA has sat dormant since shutting down in June 2020 due to the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. YMCA officials said the facility had been losing $400,000 a year and required millions of dollars in work because of deferred maintenance.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, Naperville Preservation President Becky Simon said the original Kroehler structure is a historic YMCA design that was popular throughout the country and should be adapted for another purpose. Day countered that the building is "unremarkable" and that forcing landmark status on an unwilling owner would set a dangerous precedent in the city.

YMCA officials estimate a sale of the property would generate at least $1.6 million in revenue that the YMCA of Metro Chicago could put toward services at other facilities such as the Fry Family YMCA on 95th Street.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico agreed landmark status should not be forced on owners. Councilman Paul Hinterlong said he cherished his memories of the Kroehler YMCA, but he welcomes the opportunity for a development that would bring additional tax revenue to the city.

"I respect what the 'Y' has to do to meet their needs," Hinterlong said. "I would love to save it, but that's something ... that's in control with them."

Councilman Benjamin White said he'd like to see a process put in place where issues like the preservation of a building are brought forward sooner. Then a final decision isn't rushed.

"I think we're smart enough to kind of figure that out and come up with a better way of doing this," White said.

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