By Scott Smith
The buildings were always going to come down at some point, but Tuesday was the day it finally happened.
Promptly at 8 a.m., city workers began tearing down the former Button Motors property in downtown Kokomo, taking another step toward clearing the site for a new Kokomo YMCA.
Kokomo Family YMCA director Dave Dubois got out his smartphone and tweeted a picture of the occasion.
“I’m extremely excited about seeing the buildings coming down,” Dubois said. “It’s symbolism. It represents, not just to the Y but to the entire community, that the Y is moving forward.”
After Button moved to its new location in 2006, the buildings have been mostly vacant, apart from a few temporary tenants.
In May 2011, one of the Button buildings, at 116 N. Union St., had to be torn down after it partially collapsed.
The remaining three buildings weren’t in much better shape, and the city has worked for the past several years to get former owner Don Button to donate the properties.
Last year, Button signed off on the gift, and this month, the city agreed to a land swap with Kokomo developer Scott Pitcher that resulted in the city owning almost the entire block bounded by Market, Sycamore, Union and Walnut streets. The only parcel not under city control is owned by the Y.
The YMCA is now in the midst of ramping up a capital campaign for what is expected to be a 65,000-square-foot, $15 million project, and the most optimistic estimates have construction on the new building starting mid-2014. Before that happens, however, the Y will have to raise the money.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said Tuesday that “regardless of what happens, these buildings had to come down.”
If it doesn’t snow, and the street department workers aren’t called away on snow removal duty, all three remaining buildings could be taken down in a week or two, Goodnight added.
It has been a long road to get to this point for Dubois, who arrived in Kokomo in the late 1990s and has been working toward a new Y building ever since. The current YMCA, built in 1910, expanded in 1957 and again in 1965, was originally built as a hotel and has been extensively remodeled.
Last year, the project took massive steps when the city committed to clearing the Button site, and Howard County officials committed $500,000 in economic development income tax revenue toward the project.
The city and county also bridged initial differences to agree on the county occupying one floor of a planned downtown parking garage, which is slated to rise across Union Street from the Y project.
Dubois said the YMCA may end up using much of the block the city is now clearing and wants room for future expansion.
The city is committed to building the parking garage, at a cost which could be close to $7 million, as a way to both resolve downtown parking issues and offer Y patrons and county workers a place to park.
Once the demolition work on the east side of Union Street is finished, the city will shift the parking from the surface lot on the west side of the street to the former Button Site. The shift probably won’t take place until workers break ground on the garage project.
Goodnight said the new garage is still in the design stage and construction likely won’t begin until mid-to-late spring. The four-level garage probably will take at least six months to build. So far, city officials haven’t discussed how they will fund the project.
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org