By John Orona
After years of neglect and failed projects that have made it a target for vandals and vagrants, the Pasadena City Council is once again taking the preliminary steps to preserve and renovate the YWCA building that was once a local historic and architectural gem.
During their last meeting, the City Council directed staff to initiate a broad Request for Proposal (RFP) to redevelop and renovate the building — leaving it up to a developer to decide the fate of the historic YWCA building despite the demonstrated need and overwhelming public support to use the space for affordable housing.
The YWCA building is designated as a historical monument by the city but has been vacant for more than 20 years. The city bought the landmark in 2012 through eminent domain for more than $8 million to prevent it from being torn down. Since that time, proposals for the building’s use have come and gone with no action ultimately being taken.
The council commissioned economic and architectural studies to help determine the best use of the space and concluded that the options for renovating and continuing to use it as the YWCA building were infeasible.
“While the YWCA building is appealing and historically significant, it is expected to cost more to rehabilitate than revenues from the reuse of the building will support,” a staff report read.
Instead the city studied several options for its use, including as a hotel, office space, residential and affordable housing. Although the public comments, correspondence and the mayor strongly supported the permanent supportive housing option, the majority of the council disagreed.
“We’re sitting here seriously considering making our civic center basically one big housing project,” Councilmember Steve Madison said. “I think that’s problematic.”
The primary concern from the council was the ability to fund public housing, but according to Housing Director Bill Huang there are county and state funds available, with permanent supportive housing a particular emphasis in these funding schemes.
In a 5-3 vote, the council ultimately chose to leave their options open with a RFP that outlines general guidelines for the building envelope and mandates the first floor be open to the public but leaves the use and other specifics to developers.
The councilmembers that voted no — Hampton, Tornek and Madison — were concerned that after 20 years of vacancy another RFP would just add more delays to an emergency situation.
“The fact that we would even be talking about another RFP and the bounds of that RFP is stunning to me,” Mayor Terry Tornek said. “We’ll be talking about this at a press conference next to the smoking rubble if we go (through that process) again.”
An RFP is expected to be prepared by the end of June. Proposals from developers are then anticipated several weeks later.