The historic old downtown Columbus YMCA building, owned by First Presbyterian Church, is in the process of being sold to a local businessman, downtown resident and property owner.
Members of First Presbyterian Church voted Sunday to move forward with the proposed sale of the building, said Richard Y. “Bo” Bradley, a church member who is representing the church’s legal interest in the transaction.
Jason Gamache, who owns PTAP, an automobile accessory and repair business, has been acquiring property downtown and in the Historic District for about seven years. He entered into a contract with the church this week to purchase the 1903 building.
Neither party would disclose the terms of the sale, but said they were working to set a closing date. The marble-facade building, which has been in poor condition for decades, is being sold as-is, real estate broker Ed Adams said. Gamache is also acquiring a small surface parking lot behind the building.
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“The first thing that I want to do is get the building where we don’t have leaks or damage to the historical value,” Gamache said Wednesday morning. “... This was one of the pieces of property that I rode by almost every day and I felt like it needed to be saved. And I am sure at some point somebody else has come in and did the same thing, but I am looking for opportunities to make my backyard a better place.”
The building at 118 11th St. served as part of the Central YMCA until 2010 when the John P. Thayer YMCA opened near the TSYS campus.
First Presbyterian Church bought the building for $1.5 million in 2004 as the YMCA was planning a new downtown facility. The old YMCA was essentially two structures, the original marble building constructed 114 years ago and a 1951 addition that housed the pool, gym and many of the facilities used by YMCA members.
The church demolished the 1951 addition and created a 35-space surface parking lot, which the church will retain after the sale is complete, Bradley said.
“The biggest misconception I get of this property is people will say, ‘I used to swim in that building or I used to play basketball in that building,’” Gamache said. “What people don’t realize is this is not that building. This is the original building that was built for young men to come through for fellowship and to live in.”
Reynolds Bickerstaff, a Columbus real estate broker and chairman of the Uptown Columbus Inc. Board of Directors, applauded Gamache for buying the building and undertaking a massive redevelopment project.
“I think the reason no one else has purchased it is they had a preconceived conception of what that building was,” Bickerstaff said. “When you walk into it, you can start to visualize what you can do with it.”
Gamache said he has no firm plans for the property, but has a number of ideas on how to activate it. He has been working for more than 18 months to acquire the property.
“The acquisition, was, respectfully, a long process,” he said. “My end goal is to see the building revitalized and get a new use for the building.”
But Gamache is clearly looking at potential residential use for the building. About two years ago he attended an Uptown Columbus Inc. vision meeting and during a small-group discussion he was struck by the lack of housing available in the downtown area.
“I remember that group giving a presentation and saying if we started that day, which was almost two years ago, we would still be almost five years behind the demand,” Gamache said. “The more people we can get living in the uptown area, the more opportunities that will be presented.”
Though he is fairly new to the real estate development game and most of his two decades of business experience is in automobile accessories, Gamache said he has been paying attention to what others who have bought and renovated downtown structures have done.
“I have learned from the guys who have done phenomenal jobs: W.C. Bradley, Chris Woodruff, Reynolds Bickerstaff and Buddy Nelms,” he said. “They have all come down here and made jewels out of old properties. That is what I hope to do.”
Gamache knows some people are questioning his sanity for tackling a redevelopment project that First Presbyterian gave up on and other developers have passed on.
“There are a lot of people who still think I have lost my mind,” he said. “That’s OK. There’s a lot of people that thought Buddy Nelms, 20-something years ago, had lost his mind. He’s done phenomenal things for our area. If it were not for people like Buddy and others like him who have invested private money into uptown, it wouldn’t be what it is today.”
Historic Columbus Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Barker said what Gamache is doing is an outgrowth of what others have done.
“Because of Buddy being crazy 25 years ago he set a lot of things in motion to make this project possible,” Barker said.
Many of the well- known developers passed on the old YMCA building.
“I don’t feel that it is out of my lane,” he said. “Different people have gone in different directions. It is a little daunting to know that other people have passed on the property. It is not so much they passed on this is that they may have had another vision or plan for another area.”
The historic YMCA building was dedicated in December 1903. The construction process was completed in 1907 and when it opened it was the only marble YMCA building the United States, according to the YMCA of Metropolitan Columbus’ website. The building was modeled after a YMCA in London, according to the history on the website.
Philanthropist George Foster Peabody donated the money for the YMCA’s construction, according to Etta Blanchard in “Columbus on the Chattahoochee,” published in 1951. A red brick addition was added to the original structure at a cost of $578,000.
The building on the National Register of Historic Places and is a valuable piece of the city’s history, Barker said.
“We stand ready to help any way we can and are excited about the future of this building,” Barker said.
The fact that the historic structure is downtown is one of the primary things that attracted him to it, Gamache said.
“Uptown is more of a village,” he said. “We have a different mentality in the way we do things. We have respect for one another. We have an understanding of one another. When it comes to business, there is a line. But it is a different line that I would see in another area, not just Columbus, but other places. ... We work together and fortunately I have been able to learn a lot from these developers who have done things because they are willing to share their experiences. ... It is my part and my duty to figure out this particular property.”