The Waukesha Family YMCA Scheme to Destroy a Historic Landmark

Walley's Service StationMost of us believe that the Waukesha Family YMCA is a valued asset to the Waukesha County community.  Most of us believe that the leaders of the YMCA actually value the Waukesha community as a whole and stand behind their words, “We all work together to invest in our kids, our health, and our neighbors.” One would think that the YMCA is not all about the old mighty dollar, taking their “non-profit” status for face value.
I used to share these same beliefs, but it turns out that I may be wrong. Apparently the Waukesha YMCA made a bad investment in purchasing a piece of property and they are now fighting to destroy a historic landmark, otherwise imputing their loss on the Waukesha community.
 
Did the YMCA make a bad investment?

It began when the YMCA purchased property located at 422 E. Broadway in May 2010 for $152,500.00. (Note that the property was assessed at $125,000.00 in 2010 and has subsequently been reduced to $114,400.00.) The intention of the YMCA was to raze the building that occupies the property to make way for their plans of constructing a living center – plans which have subsequently been denied by the Waukesha Plan Commission.  The YMCA plans to convert the small corner parcel of land into ten parking stalls, but those plans have been interrupted.  By virtue of a city ordinance, a force of hand you might say, the YMCA has been trying to sell this very same piece of property for $159,000.  That’s correct the YMCA is trying to sell their bad investment for a profit of $7,500 – a price that’s $44,600 above the assessed value of the property.
 
Why the YMCA is trying to sell the property

It turns out that the building which occupies the property at 422 E. Broadway, otherwise known as the Bartles Maguire/Widhams Service Station, was built in 1926 and is the last known house-style gas station in Waukesha County, or the entire state of Wisconsin for that matter. The gas station has significant integrity to be qualified as a landmark, which is the very reason why in July 2010 the Waukesha City Landmarks Commission designated the building a landmark.
The YMCA is now the owner of a tiny parcel of land which houses a historic landmark and they simply have no desire for the property unless they can convert it into ten parking stalls.   However, the landmark status prevents the YMCA from demolishing the gas station.  It’s important for everyone in the community to know that although the YMCA would have you believe that they want to sell the property – even for the obvious profit – That is not their true intent.
Stan Riffle, past Director of the YMCA and current “pro bono” legal counsel has been quoted as saying:
We don’t want to be the seller. We want to knock it down. We’re being reasonable in terms of why.  But if somebody came in with an offer, we would obviously [l]ook at it.
 
The Historical Significance of the Gas Station

The Bartles Maguire gas station currently falls in second place on the 2011 list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States.  The significance of this building was not just determined solely by the Waukesha Landmarks Commission as the YMCA would have everyone believe.  This classification was also made by professionals in the field of historic preservation who researched and documented the structure.
The Wisconsin State Historical Society submitted documentation to the Wisconsin State Review Board, who made a decision that the structure warrants historic landmark status.  This information was then forwarded to the Federal Department of the Interior, who concurred that with the state landmark determination, and the Bartles Maguire gas station located at 422 E. Broadway became eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
 
Any reasonably prudent person should have known the status of the gas station

Does the fact that the properties landmark designation came two months after the YMCA purchased the property imply that the YMCA should receive a free pass to demolish the landmark?  Should not a reasonably prudent person have known that the structure has historical significance?  In the very least the realtor who has the property on the market should have known the Bartles Maguire gas station was more than just an old building.  Public records support this.
As far back as September 15, 1995 when the Wisconsin Department of Transportation was planning the East Broadway road project, it was discovered that the Bartles Maguire Gas Station had historical significance.  Nomination.pdf

This information was brought to the attention of the Waukesha Board of Public Works, and is noted in agenda item 7 in the archives for Thursday, September 15, 2005. View Minutes Here

Subsequent to this status being noted by the Board of Public Works, the city planner was provided with sufficient information to officially submit the gas station to the Waukesha Landmarks Commission for official designation.  However, due to illness and having been let go from his position with the Commission, the city planner never completed his duty of putting the gas station on the agenda for consideration and designation by the Landmarks Commission.  Moreover, when the new city planner took over, he was made aware of the status of the gas station.  Again, the item was never officially placed on the agenda for consideration by the Landmarks Commission.

For whatever reason the status of the Bartles Maguire gas station “fell between the cracks” of being officially designated a landmark by the City of Waukesha Landmarks Commission, and only finally made it to the Commission for official designation two months after the YMCA bought the property.

 

The scheme to destroy the landmark

In my opinion the Waukesha YMCA devised a scheme to destroy the landmark from the very beginning. This is only an opinion based upon reasonable inferences.

Before the YMCA purchased the property in 2010 it had been on the market for over three years.  When the YMCA bought the property its value was $125,000, but they paid $152,500 – $27,500 more than its value!  Then, when attempting to sell the property to comply with the ordinance that would allow the YMCA to have the landmark status rescinded, the YMCA hung a price tag of $159,000 on the property.  Finally, Stan Riffle, counsel for the YMCA, clearly stated that they have no intent of selling the property.  Essentially they’re just going through some motions to make it appear that they are the victim of the Landmark Commission.

Not only is the YMCA trying to make a profit on their investment, but they are trying to sell a landmark for a cost that is $44,600 above the assessed value in the midst of an economic recession. They are attempting to subvert the ordinance by buying the property at an inflated price and claiming that they cannot sell it because of its Landmark Status.

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