NORTH TONAWANDA – The YWCA of the Niagara Frontier hopes to renovate its century-old building at 49 Tremont St. and provide studio apartments to single, homeless women who have been victims of domestic violence.
If the plan receives approvals and grant funding, the $3 million to $4 million renovation would transform an unused gymnasium at the building into 12 studio apartments, six on each floor. There will also be a ground-floor coffee shop open to the public and offices for support services at the Tremont site.
The Common Council has scheduled a public hearing for 6 p.m. Sept. 6, prior to its regular meeting, to discuss rezoning the site from light manufacturing to a neighborhood business district. Public input will be taken at the meeting.
But Mayor Arthur G. Pappas is already voicing support for the project, called it a “real positive.”
Alderwoman-at-Large Catherine G. Schwandt agreed, saying she wanted to hear from the public, but favored the plan for and its model to teach life skills.
The plan has already received approval from the North Tonawanda Planning and Historic Preservation Board and, in July, the Common Council gave the YWCA the go-ahead to work with Lumber City Development to seek a $300,000 New York Main Street grant.
On Tuesday, state officials and Yahoo announced that the YWCA would receive a $33,000 grant for the Tremont Street project from the Yahoo Community Fund for Niagara County, part of the $3.5 million Yahoo committed to pay in grants in exchange for a gigantic package of tax breaks, low-cost electricity and tax credits for its Lockport site.
YWCA Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Granchelli said the organization is seeking five different sources of funding to make the renovation project a reality. She said the YWCA will be applying for funding for the next several months. If it receives the grants, it would be able to start construction in mid- to late-2017 and open the facility sometime in 2018.
The plan is to create an “adaptive reuse” of the building, which is actually two former homes joined together with a gymnasium in the rear of the building.
“We are trying to be cognizant of its history. This is not a historical building, but a beautiful old building in a historic zone. This is not a historical preservation. We do the best of the old and the best of the new,” said Granchelli.
It’s been over a year since the YWCA of the Tonawandas merged with its Lockport counterpart to become the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier.
Granchelli said the YWCA has been working on the renovation plan for two years, since a little before the merger.
“Since we merged, we have to make sure all the buildings we have are serving the needs of the community, and this facility had support services, but there was a lack of housing,” Granchelli said. “It’s very important to us to fit into the community properly and to maintain our buildings and offer high-end programs for women.”
She said this housing will be the third stage for women who have moved beyond shelters and transitional housing and are ready to move into the community into permanent housing.
“Permanent housing is for someone who wants to be in the community, and these will be lovely apartments for single women, but we will also be providing the services they need to move forward,” added Granchelli. “But this is permanent housing. Once they move in, they can stay as long as they like.”
She stressed that programs the YWCA offers in area schools will not be disrupted by the change, and domestic violence services will continue to be offered at the Tremont Street site.
“Our children’s programs are in the schools - the before and after-school programs and summer camps are in the schools,” Granchelli said. She said they have applied for a grant to move other children’s services in order to keep the level of services the same.
“Nothing is going away. They will either be at the current site,” she said, “or we will move them some place close by.”
The reason for the proposed change is two-fold, according to Granchelli. The 100 -year-old building needed some work and there is a real need for this type of rental housing for single women in the downtown district. She said this renovation would serve both needs.
“We talked about what would work with that building and what we came up with was affordable, permanent housing for domestic violence survivors,” said Granchelli. “It’s hard for single women to find somewhere that’s nice, that’s in her financial reach and it’s almost impossible to find support services, which is what we provide.”
The coffee house in the building will allow the YWCA to expand its culinary training program with an economic self-sufficiency component, like the culinary training offered at the YWCA’s headquarters on Cottage Street in Lockport and the kitchen and catering service offered at the YWCA’s Carolyn’s House - a 19-unit shelter for women and children in Niagara Falls.
Women who live in the new apartments in the Tremont Street building could work in the coffee shop if they desire.
“We want to fit in to what is trying to be accomplished in downtown North Tonawanda by offering a really high quality coffee shop and cafe,” said Granchelli. “None of our sites are just apartment buildings. It’s all about empowerment - making sure we are meeting the needs that have been identified by the community.”