Tile flooring

Old Historic Youth Building Apartments in Battle Creek Get Upgrades

Overlooking nearby CW Post Field, Nikolas Kehr took his dog, “Whiskey”, for a walk on a sunny midweek afternoon and was soon surrounded by young neighbors who wanted to meet his pup.

The Flat Rock native is a pilot in training at Western Michigan University College of Aviation in Battle Creek, and said he and his roommate were looking for an affordable place to live near the airport campus that would allow pets. He found a home at 115 West Apartments.

“We moved in at the end of July. We weren’t sure what to expect,” Kehr said. “We were looking at different apartment listings and this came up at the last minute so we took a look. It’s actually pretty cool. They still have the tiles and everything from the old swimming pool.”

Inside the Village at Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

The downtown Battle Creek apartment complex was once home to swimming and other recreation as the Boys Club and later Youth Building, before years of neglect left it slated for demolition. The Gothic-style recreation building was saved from being bulldozed by community members in the 1990s, and in 2003 was converted into an income-based affordable housing complex called Village at Irving Park.

In 2019, Grand Rapids-based American Preferred Management took over management of the building, since its renovation and rebranding into a market-rate one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartment complex called 115 West.

Despite a number of recent renovations, the 94-year-old building still bears echoes of its past.

“The bones are strong and there’s a really cool bottom,” said Ramona Nantz, vice president of American Preferred Management and a Marshall native. “We had to do things to the building that are not pretty, but necessary. And we left everything stock, but did some cosmetic stuff. New flooring, new kitchen cabinets, quartz and granite countertops. We also don’t want to lower the price of Battle Creek. We want to be the guy in the middle.”

Become 115 West

A one-bedroom loft inside the Village at Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, the property was purchased by VIP Battle Creek Apts LLC in 2019 for $1.5 million, according to city records. There will be 38 units in the complex once renovations are complete, with 23 apartments in the original building and 15 three-bedroom apartments in the annex built in 2003.

Nantz said residents who live under the federal income-tested affordable housing program can recertify after their lease expires, but would pay rent at current rates.

Due to the property being part of the federal housing program and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, Nantz said there were delays in updating the building. One of the new owner’s biggest and first investments was a new cooling system, as the building previously lacked air conditioning.

Currently, the apartment complex is 97% occupied, with only a one-bedroom loft available, listing between $880 and $950 per month. It has an open space and is located in a section of the old swimming pool, with depth markers and an old pool terrace converted into a loft.

A one-bedroom loft inside the Village at Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Historic tiles and pool markings remain from the original building.

There are plans to add a fitness center by early 2023 and other upgrades to the common area and patio facing West Street.

Inside the entrance hall are original floors. A “Youth Building” iron sign hangs after it was discovered in the property’s basement. The first hallway that residents and guests encounter features original bleachers.

A gift from WK Kellogg

The old Boys/Youth Club building at 115 West St. in Battle Creek, built in 1926 after W. K. Kellogg made an anonymous donation of $150,000 to the city

In 1926, Kellogg Co. founder W.K. Kellogg made an anonymous donation of $150,000 to build a “Boys Club” adjacent to Irving Park as a gift to the city. Two years later, it was turned over to the Boy Scouts for maintenance.

AFTER: Irving Park has long had a bird problem. Here’s how the park can return to its former glory

The building was adjacent to Irving Park, originally at College Street and Garfield Avenue. The city took over operations in 1937 and purchased the building in 1950. The first organized indoor floor hockey games are said to have originated there in 1962, the creation of city recreation employee Thomas Harter. Leroy Sparks, known as “the father of swimming” in Battle Creek, taught countless youngsters to swim and trained All-American swimmers in the recreation building pool.

The Leroy Sparks Community Hall inside the Village of Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

After years of neglect and the cost of maintaining the property, the city’s parks and recreation department vacated the building in 1988, leaving it vacant. It was to be demolished and turned into the Battle Creek Public Schools tennis courts in 1995, but local community members objected. Five years later, the city invested $400,000 to repair its roof before a Florida-based company bought it for $200,000 and turned it into an apartment complex.

A sign commemorating Sparks still hangs above the Community Hall, where pictures hang on the wall as a reminder of the building’s former life as a recreation center.

“When I first came down to see the building, I wondered through the whole building,” Nantz said. “The ceilings are high, so there’s tons of natural light. The field views are pretty cool. This building is amazing.”

Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley

This circa 1950 photo shows people gathered inside the gymnasium of the old youth building at 115 West St. in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Seated first in the front row is Leroy Sparks, known as Leroy Sparks. "the father of swimming" at Battle Creek.
This circa 1943 postcard shows the Boys Club Building at Irving Park in Battle Creek, Michigan.  The building was converted into an apartment complex in 2003.
The village of Irving Park at 115 West St. in downtown Battle Creek, Michigan on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
Inside the Village at Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
The Leroy Sparks Community Hall inside the Village of Irving Park at 115 West St. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
Historic tile art inside the village of Irving Park at 115 West St. in downtown Battle Creek, Michigan on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
A sign from the old Youth Building inside the Irving Park Village at 115 West Street on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.