The Council Bluffs City Council voted against a resolution in support of seeking historic landmark status for the former St. Patrick’s Church building.
The resolution would’ve requested that the Historic Preservation Commission seek designation for the former building located at 132 Baughn St. to be a local landmark and to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, while also authorizing funds for an architectural historian to assist with the nomination process, per the council’s agenda packet.
Councilman Mike Wolf, who brought the resolution forward, said during Monday night’s council meeting he was hopeful the designation might allow access to state and federal funding to save the building.
The YMCA of Greater Omaha owns the former church building, the rectory and surrounding land and has plans to create a park and add parking for the adjacent Charles E. Lakin YMCA.
On Dec. 14, the council voted against a series of requests from the YMCA that would’ve included rezoning the land from residential to administrative-professional district and vacating and disposing of Baughn Street, which connects Harmony Street and Kanesville Boulevard.
During Monday’s meeting, YMCA of Greater Omaha President and CEO Chris Tointon discussed the recent history of the former St. Patrick’s Church building while asking the council to not approve the historic preservation resolution. Tointon noted that in November 2017 Preserve Council Bluffs expressed interest in purchasing the site but did not follow through.
The new St. Patrick’s Church on Valley View Drive opened in May 2018. During that year and in 2019, the church met with three potential buyers, but no offers were made.
Tointon said in 2019 the church reached out to the YMCA of Greater Omaha about purchasing the property. The YMCA conducted due diligence to see if they could save the building.
“We looked at utilizing the church property. We looked at redevelopment of the entire site, looked at how could repurpose the church building,” Tointon said.
The YMCA had its facilities team and engineers conduct a physicals plant study of the building, with the report including foundation damage, asbestos and other “harmful” chemicals and an inoperable HVAC system, “among other challenges,” Tointon said.
“The Y stepped forward and made the decision to move forward with the sale to utilize the land and not the building, with the blessing of the church,” Tointon said.
At the time of the sale in 2019, the Rev. Glen Wilwerding, the now-retired St. Patrick’s priest, said, “The former St. Patrick’s Church property at Harmony and Baughn Streets served our parish community for nearly 100 years. We are extremely grateful for the history and memories of this property. As we have moved forward with our new church site, we are pleased that our local YMCA is acquiring our former location. We are confident that the YMCA will continue to be a strong community partner and utilize this property to further its’ mission in serving the residents of Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa.”
Tointon noted the church removed all items of value from the buildings, some of which were sold for fundraising purposes. And the YMCA has set up giving the cobblestone to the church as well for similar purposes.
“The building is far gone. There’s nothing left in it,” he said.
Tointon said the YMCA’s initial park plan did not include removing Baughn Street, but that was added at the suggestion of community leaders they met with during the planning phase.
Wolf voiced support for a path forward that saves the building. He also noted that city staff did research on parking in the area that identified 135 extra spaces on the existing grounds. A map shown at the meeting showed the spaces, which include some across Kanesville Boulevard from the YMCA facility.
“I’d be open to talking about Baughn Street, if we can keep the building,” Wolf said.
Councilman Chad Hannan said that he has personal history with the church and wanted to make sure the YMCA had done everything possible before deciding to tear the buildings down. He said he believes they did.
“I hope people recognize, this building didn’t deteriorate because of the efforts of the YMCA. I’d love for it to be part of your operation, but I understand that’s not exactly economically feasible,” Hannan said. “I don’t want to get into government overreach, don’t want to put this building into a designation against your will. I am concerned about the precedent that would set.”
“It’s a sad day for Council Bluffs. Another one of our historic buildings is going to get torn down. That’s too bad,” Hannan said, again noting he doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of the YMCA.
Councilman Roger Sandau echoed Hannan.
“With foundation issues, if St. Pat’s still owned it, and it continued to deteriorate, it would have to come down anyway. Instead of an empty building, I’d like to see something go there,” Sandau said. “We shouldn’t be telling you what to do with property you own.”
The council voted 3-1 against the resolution, with Wolf the sole supporter. Councilwoman Melissa Head, a member of the Council Bluffs YMCA’s advisory board, abstained from the vote.
Charles E. Lakin YMCA Executive Director Leo McIntosh said moving forward, the organization will continue talks with city leaders as it works to develop the St. Patrick’s grounds.
“We’re in the discussion phase, trying to work with the city to figure out the best solution for the property,” McIntosh told the Nonpareil.
— Editor’s note: Mike Brownlee is a member of the Council Bluffs YMCA advisory board.