ebruary 3, 2010 by JSOnline — The Holton Youth Center, which shut down last year after the YMCA and a private school decided to pull out of the building at 510 E. Burleigh St., is making some convincing moves toward being reborn.

Mario Costantini, who helped launch the center in 1989, is several months into the process of finding new tenants for the center, in a former dairy company building just east of Holton St. in the Riverwest neighborhood.

“We’re in the what-if stage right now,” Costantini said during a recent tour of the site.

About a dozen organizations that serve children and teenagers have expressed written interest in using at least part of the building’s 20,000 square feet of space, and Costantini is hoping more organizations surface as well. His idea is to have more than one agency located at the center, perhaps in the way a number of youth arts organizations use the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center at N. King Drive and W. Walnut St., with two of them taking responsibility for managing the space.

Costantini, who owns a furniture factory a few blocks east of the youth center, was also involved in getting that art center going.

He hopes to involve a health care organization to offer pediatric services to kids in the youth center’s programs, and Marcia Sehler, another of the board members of the center, says they’re also talking to a small school recommended for the space by Howard Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. When the YMCA was running the center, Cardinal Stritch University provided a literacy program to help kids improve their reading skills, and Costantini would like to bring it back.

The idea, he said, is “taking care of the whole kid.”

The Running Rebels Community Organization, a group that has run youth sports programs for at-risk kids on the north side for 30 years, visited last week, and Dawn Barnett, the associate director, says, “We have a perfect match.”

“He has a beautiful facility. We have programs and youth,” she said.

Maria Vento at the Helen Bader Foundation is coordinating the applications from agencies that want to be involved.

DA backs center

The effort to remake the center got under way in earnest Nov. 4, when about 80 people from the social service, education and arts worlds, foundations and law enforcement, including District Attorney John Chisholm, met for a brainstorming session at the Helen Bader Foundation.

There was an open house for prospective tenants to tour the building on Jan. 4.

Chisholm said his office has had a long relationship with the youth center, and he’s eager to get it started again before crime starts “creeping back into the area.”

“The best strategy in crime reduction is to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he said.

Notably, there were two high-profile homicides involving University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students in the area last summer. In one of them, the killing of Nathan Potter, both suspects lived within a mile of the youth center; the trial of one of them, Seandell Jackson, opened Tuesday.

Now the boiled-down board of the Holton Youth Center – Costantini, Sehler and attorney Mark Witt – is working toward taking ownership of the building back from the YMCA, a deal Sehler expects to have done in a month.

Costantini says it will take three to six months to decide on which tenants will occupy the space and then another three to six before it’s up and running.

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