The Community House suspends expansion plan
By Lisa Brody
The Community House of Birmingham, located at 380 S. Bates Street, has suspended plans to expand its facility to incorporate a fitness facility and squash courts, among other uses, and to increase its footprint to three or four-stories.
The confirmation of the suspension of the expansion plans “at this time” is noted in an email from architect Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture in Birmingham, to Birmingham Planning Director Nicholas DuPuis and City Manager Jana Ecker, which was disseminated to commissioners and department heads. Saroki has been the architect for the proposed project.
The Community House President and CEO William Seklar said in response to an inquiry on the suspension, “Leadership at the Community House has decided to suspend our expansion efforts at this time, to recalculate our needs and the project’s scope, while making certain that our vision and mission is aligned with the needs of the community and those that we serve.”
The Community House is a 100-year old non-profit which was originally designed to be the community's “house,” with numerous non-profit groups using the facility over the years, from a senior men's club, to the newcomer's club, Rotary Club, Birmingham Teen Council, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Lion's Club, Optimist Club, Storyteller's Guild, Women's Club, and others. Currently, few of these clubs utilize The Community House as costs have risen for use of the meeting space.
At a pre-application meeting to the Birmingham planning board in March 2023, Seklar said the organization identified critical needs of the community they hope to address, such as helping senior citizens and making the organization more relevant to those aged 20-40 years old. The Community House had been proposing to expand services and collaborations with other organizations in the area, such as Corewell Hospital, formally Beaumont Hospital, and they said an expanded campus had been needed to meet the mission.
The Community House also offers a banquet and hospitality facility, which the remodel and expansion would have been a part of. A kitchen redo would have included a demonstration kitchen, Saroki had said in March. An outdoor garden will be found on its rooftop, also intended for educational purposes to teach individuals how to grow their own food. The rooftop area will also have a glass observatory. The fourth level will largely be a terrace with a conservatory, said Saroki.
However, at a planning board meeting in October, Saroki said they had redesigned the building as a three-story building, following an outcry from neighbors, and the revised plan included squash courts, a fitness center and locker rooms, among other uses.
At the October planning board meeting, Saroki and attorney Rick Rattner argued for The Community House's need for rezoning for “community center development,” which was unanimously denied by the planning board.
“In my opinion the current zoning already meets the planning criteria,” stated planning board chair Scott Clein. Other board members stated they could not understand why The Community House could not continue their development and mandate under the current zoning, which permits and encourages non-profit uses.
“It does not allow us to raise the type of revenue we need to continue,” Seklar responded to planning board members.
On Thursday, November 30, Seklar said, “We will use this time to be assured that our expansion needs are proper and remain a great asset to the city of Birmingham, as well as a benefit to the many surrounding communities and families, children and adults, that seek our educational opportunities, gathering space, programs and services, philanthropically and otherwise.”