Group wants to save Old YMCA

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The distinctive streetscape of Broad Street is really what the Selma Dallas County Historic Preservation Society is most worried about losing.

At the organization’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday evening, discussions of alternatives to the removal of the old YMCA building on the corner of Broad Street and Dallas Avenue were tossed around from concerned citizens.

The future of the building is in limbo. The owner of the property, developer Tom Bolton, wants to raze the building. He’s afraid the building has become unstable and might fall and injury or kill someone in its path.

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An engineer hired by the City of Selma Historical Preservation Commission has said the building’s facade could be preserved by shoring up three outside walls.

This is the way the city commission wants to go with the project.

Bolton says he’ll appeal the commission’s decision in court.

Historians and those in Selma who want to preserve the city’s old buildings say there must be some middle ground.

“The Blackbelt is so distinctive,” said Linda Derry, site director for Old Cahawba and chairman of the Interpretative Committee of the Blackbelt Heritage Area Task Force. “And that’s what visitors want. If we lost that building, we only have two blocks of downtown left. If we don’t step in and do something, I’m afraid that we’ll go to ghost town status.”

This YMCA location, built in 1885, was the first one in Alabama and one of the first ones in the southern region of the country, according to Ms. Derry.

Smaller towns tend to have only one to two historical buildings, but in Selma almost every other building here has historical architecture, according to Elizabeth Brown, director and deputy state historic preservation officer with the Alabama Historical Commission.

“I’m pretty discouraged with the condition of this building,” Ms. Brown said. “It says something important about your streetscape and is something Alabamians cant stand to lose.”

Cindy Stoudenmire presented a drawing of what Broad Street would look like without the building, and another drawing of what it would look like with parking spaces on the bottom level and a building on the other levels.

Before the meeting adjourned, members decided to form a small committee with the owner of the property, Mr. Bolton; the City of Selma; and the architect for the City of Selma Historic Development Commission, Richard Hudgens, to try to discuss and find a way to preserve the faade of the building while creating a space the city can effectively use.

“It’s not us against him or them,” said Nancy Bennett, member of the Preservation Society. “It’s got to be a conversation.”

The Preservation Society is now collecting donations to keep the YMCA building a part of Broad Street.

“A community built this building and it’s going to take a community to keep it here,” said Ms. Bennett. “We cannot stand by and lost this building without giving one hell of a try, ladies and gentlemen.”