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Niles gets YMCA’s Leaning Tower

Guests await the Leaning Tower Concert series in Niles in 2008. | Allison Williams/For the Sun-Times

For $10, the village of Niles has purchased the Leaning Tower from the YMCA in hopes of sprucing it up and getting it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Niles Mayor Andrew Przybylo announced in a statement Tuesday that the suburb will take ownership of the 94-foot Leaning Tower of Pisa replica to begin a renovation project that includes repairs to the tower, its reflecting pools and the nearly 400-year-old bells at the top of the structure.

The village, which wants the local monument to be the center of a new entertainment district on Touhy Avenue, finished restoring the tower’s facade earlier this year.

Village officials did not say how much the project would cost or who would foot the bill.

The mayor said the transfer of ownership of the tower would “ensure its place as the focal point of what is going to be a larger village greenway and plaza, with retail, restaurants and a stage for performances, among other amenities.”

At the Leaning Tower YMCA there will be little change.

The village had already been maintaining the tower for years, and the center will remain open, YMCA spokeswoman Aileen Tormon said.

Located at 6300 W. Touhy Ave., the concrete beacon has delighted Chicago area residents since the 1930s.

Niles businessman Robert Ilg built the tower to disguise a large cooling tower holding water for two swimming pools.

The tower clocks in at half the size of the original: 94 feet tall, 28 feet in diameter, leaning 7.4 feet, according to the Niles website.

Ilg’s family donated the tower to the Greater YMCA of Chicago in 1960, giving the Niles gym its name. Since then it has earned a nod from the Leaning Tower itself – the village of Niles established a sister pact with Pisa, Italy in 1991.

Now the village hopes to make their smaller replica a Pisa-sized deal by getting it on the register of historic places and opening it to visitors.

“The tower really has become a landmark – an icon– for Niles, and the opportunity to develop around there allows the village to leverage that iconic nature,” Niles spokesman Mitch Johnson said.

“Once that tower is beautified, it’s going to make that area a great destination.”

Plans for the renovated Leaning Tower | Provided photo

Plans for the renovated Leaning Tower | Provided photo