published Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Hostel springs from YMCA

The old industrial YMCA building on Mitchell Avenue has stood in disrepair for years, the care of its crumbling Spanish Revival architecture falling to the city’s homeless.

That changed when the building recently was issued a temporary certificate of occupancy to host a meeting for city officials.

Renovations are 60 percent complete at the four-story landmark, and work is on schedule to hit its $1.25 million target, said architect Terry Barker, partner at River Street Architecture.

Barker has reimagined the old YMCA as a 30,000-square-foot outdoor education hub and family-friendly hostel, to be called BaseCampChattanooga.

It will retain most of the beauty and timelessness of the original 1927 design, he said, which will save money and allow guests to spend the night for an average of around $40.

The plan, which is designed to tie in with Chattanooga’s burgeoning outdoor scene, is for exercise facilities to open in April, with the hostel portion ready in June, he said.

Barker said it’s appropriate to keep the old building intact, because early YMCAs shared a great many similarities with modern American hostels, serving as a place both for exercise and for rest for travelers.

The cornerstone for Chattanooga’s Young Men’s Christian Association was originally laid in 1929, and it became the epicenter of the city’s recreation scene. It eventually ceased functioning in the mid-1980s, but not before making in indelible impression on thousands of the city’s youth, who could engage in healthy pursuits such as swimming and playing basketball.

Jack Kruesi, who bought the building in 1999 and spent over a decade cleaning it up, was one of those young swimmers.

“I swam there in the late ’50s, because there was no pool anywhere else,” he said.

Those fond memories of shooting hoops and swimming laps with many of the city’s future leaders were part of his motivation for returning the Y to its original use, a dream he has pursued since the late ’90s.

Though a former owner had stopped paying the bills before Kruesi bought it, the lights have never been turned off, Barker said.

In fact, the old YMCA is in surprisingly good shape for an old building. After all, “it was built with a concrete core and foundation,” he said, not unusual for a building that was constructed “to last 100 years or more.”

The reception desk, murals, doors and nearly everything original are still standing, which is a bit surprising, considering the variety and quality of the Y’s tenants over the years, said Ken Ivey, general manager of BaseCampChattanooga.

“It’s amazing how much respect they’ve had for the building,” he said.

The 59-room hostel, which will be one of the largest in the U.S., will fit 120 guests and feature a number of amenities, Ivey said.

“There’s a great demand for a hostel in this area,” he said. “How many times did we go to the beach as kids and cram as many people into a cheap motel room as we could?”

Hostel guests will be able to practice bouldering in the old two-story basketball room, buy necessities and swim laps. They will have access to a dining room, kitchen and iceboxes for storage.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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