Eric Basye was expecting as many as 80 volunteers to come down to the old Labor Temple Hall on South 29th Street on Saturday for what he’s calling “our first official demo day.”
Basye is the director of Community Leadership and Development Inc., a Christian organization that works on the South Side of Billings under the slogan “Rebuilding Lives, Restoring Families, Re-Neighboring Communities.”
The demolition work will be going on inside the old Labor Temple Hall, a solid brick building at 29th and First Avenue South that has 14,000 square feet between the ground floor and the basement.
CLDI’s plan is to use the long-abandoned building as its new headquarters, a community gathering space and, after adding two floors to the eastern half of the building, 14 to 16 affordable apartments.
Moving the organization’s offices from their current location, a few blocks away at 109½ S. 32nd St., would allow for an expansion of CLDI’s Hannah House program, which provides housing and life-skills training for women in crisis. The program already occupies two houses on the property in front of the CLDI offices.
The new building will be called Kataphuego, Greek for “refuge.” CLDI started looking into relocating its offices three years ago, thinking then that the new location could also include a café, coffee shop and community space.
Those plans evolved as the search for a building continued. At one point, Basye said, they thought they would be able to buy the old Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on South 29th Street.
After that fell through, he said, “we looked at a ton of different buildings” before settling on the renovated Crane Building, a block west of the Labor Temple Hall on First Avenue. But the asking price was too much, so they settled at last on the labor building. It was a decision Basye was happy with.
“We had the opportunity to rehabilitate a building that was literally falling apart,” he said.
Built in 1889, it was used as a boarding house, Chinese laundry and grocery store, a warehouse and then a labor temple. In recent years it had been used for storage by Southside Pawn. Karri Hallock, CLDI’s financial administrator and property manager, said the building hadn’t been connected to city water since 2001.
The CLDI bought the building in September and has been working with Collaborative Design Architects since then on asbestos abatement, demolition plans and a design for the expanded building.
On demolition day Saturday, the plan is to rip out everything from ceiling tiles to walls, leaving only one structural wall in the middle of half the ground floor. The western half of the ground floor and the same half of the basement would be connected by a stairwell and used for a community gathering space, and also available for event rental.
The other half of the ground floor could possibly house a café and catering business and maybe some space for launching small businesses. Then, 8,000 square feet will be added on two new floors above the eastern half of the building to create affordable efficiency and one-bedroom apartments.
Creating affordable housing has been the main focus of the CLDI since its founding in 1981 by former state legislator Dave Hagstrom.
Basye said the most recent estimate of the entire Labor Temple Hall project is $3.25 million. The CLDI already has about $1.9 million, mostly in the form of local donations and grants from private foundations.
That total also includes a $200,000 grant from the Downtown Billings Alliance, which would be used for abatement and construction of infrastructure like sidewalks, curbs and gutters. That grant, though, still needs to be approved by the City Council, Basye said.
Plans call for making a parking area out of a vacant lot on the north side of the building and moving the main entrance from South 29th Street to the north side.
Basye said the organization is still working with the architects on final plans for the renovation and is working internally to decide exactly what will end up in the building. They’ve got some time to figure that out.
He said the CLDI hopes to obtain final city approval for its building plans by March and then to start construction by May or June. Construction will probably take 12 to 18 months, he said.