When finished, the building will accommodate 37 affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments, two commercial spaces, art studios, a gallery, and a fitness room.
Granite City's YMCA building, located at the intersection of Edison and E. 20th, has stood empty for nearly 10 years. But Rise Community Development hopes to change that. By June 2010, the neighborhood revitalization nonprofit plans to turn the historic building into the Edison Avenue Lofts, which will accommodate 37 one and two-bedroom affordable artist lofts, two commercial spaces, art studios, a gallery, and a fitness room.
“What we have is a project that is part of bigger community development efforts,” says Mark Stroker, Director of Real Estate Development at Rise Community Development. “In a lot of cases, we are involved in that community development planning. In this case, Granite City has done a pretty extensive economic development and action plan. They particularly identified the Y building as a priority, and as a building they want to see reused, repurposed, and done in a way that really respects its history.”
Stroker says Rise had been in touch with Granite City officials for three or four years about various buildings and opportunities in the area. But the conversation always came back to this particular building.
“Rise has been a terrific partner in this project,” says James Amos, the Granite City economic development director. “When I came to the job about three years ago, this was the first project I earmarked as something I wanted to work on. It’s a beautiful building architecturally, and it’s in a great part of town. It sits right across from city hall off a nice green space.”
Stroker says the renovation is deliberately “geared toward the art community. When you do these historic projects in particular, you have to really respect the character and design of the larger common areas.”
Those common areas will be transformed into the commercial, studio, and gallery space. Rise will also have a few units set aside for veterans who work with art either as therapy or for a living.
“Granite City has re-imagined itself as a place for artists,” he continues. “Everybody knows its reputation as a steel city, and they are certainly happy to have those furnaces back up and running, but what they have done is try to foster a very comfortable place for artists.”
Stroker describes the vibe as similar to Cherokee Street, possibly because some of the same people are involved. Galen Gondolfi, for example, “is well known in the region for being involved in the regeneration of Cherokee Street, and after that took hold [he and his partners] started investing here,” says Amos.
Gondolfi runs G-CADD, a consortium of creative project spaces along the 1800 block of State Street in downtown Granite City. In 2015, an old church was renovated to become the Alfresco Performing Arts Center, about a block and a half from the soon-to-be Edison Avenue Lofts.
“It happened in an organic way, and we want to bolster that,” Amos says. “There’s a really interesting mix of industry and urban that’s really hard to find anywhere else.”
The Edison Avenue lofts are now approved for funding and the building was added to the register of National Historic Places in September 2017.
“I think the idea is to both have this project fit in, but also to have it be a real catalyst for bringing economic development and vitality back to downtown Granite City,” says Stroker. “Having more people back to work [in the steel industry]—that adds vitality.”
Funding for the building will come from a variety of places—affordable housing tax credits, federal historic tax credits, funds Rise is putting forward and other sources. The team hopes to close on the construction financing possibly as early as November, or at least by early 2019, and will begin construction within a few weeks of the financial closing.
Amos is optimistic for Granite City’s future: Both the artist lofts and the developments at Granite City Steel “are working in a symbiotic way to revitalize our city,” he says. “There are really legitimate reasons that people will want to take a second look at Granite City, and once they do, we think they’ll really like what they see.”