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Removal Of ISSCS Admin Building Approved

John Alltop
Wikimedia Commons

The Town Council in Normal has approved taxpayers paying about a half million dollars to tear down the old Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children's School Administration Building on Beech Street.

That is in return for the land and in the hope new development will eventually happen.

Council member Kathleen Lorenz voted no saying the deal is "too thin" compared to private-public partnerships she has supported.

"Thin in terms of what this really was going to be. We're tearing down with the hope of certain outcomes. But, without those pieces being really defined, I had a hard time with it," said Lorenz.

Supporters of the plan say the building is a blight and the building too inflexible for re-use, because many of the many small rooms have load bearing walls. That was the counter to those who favored historic preservation as an outcome.

Owner Nick Africano has not been able to redevelop the admin building since he bought it from the State in 1991. But, City Manager Mark Peterson said condemning the place to force Africano to do the tear-down would not be the best outcome.

"You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip. So, if you're going to ask him to demolish that, he's going have to demolish two building because if he demolishes the administration (building), he doesn't have any resources left for the infirmary," said Peterson.

Peterson said Africano did try hard to attract several redevelopers over the years.

"And it just wasn't practical even with public support. The numbers just didn't work, unfortunately," said Peterson.

"Didn't work by a little or a lot?" said a reporter.

"By a lot. None of them even submitted a proposal, it was that far off," said Peterson. "Hundreds, probably millions (of dollars). It would be probably ten to fifteen million dollars to restore that building. I mean other than the foundation, it's a gut job," said Peterson.

Africano will have two years to make an offer to buy back the cleared land, but the Town is not obligated to accept it.

Mayor Chris Koos said the location inside a Tax Increment Financing District is not as helpful as one might think for a redeveloper. He said recently some developers have been turning down TIF money for projects because accepting it also requires they pay prevailing wage rates and they have viewed TIF and prevailing wage as nearly a wash.

And Mark Peterson said because redevelopment involves new construction, TIF funding is only eligible for use to pay interest on construction loans or to extend utilities to the site, not for the construction itself.

Kathleen Lorenz and other council members also questioned the need for a two year waiting period to allow Africano time to gain capitol to make an offer. Council member Scott Preston asked why Africano's two year waiting period could not have happened two years ago?

But, Mayor Chris Koos said the Town has waited nineteen years for something to happen, so it is unlikely anything would happen without town participation anyway. Koos did not think two years is too long to wait.

Council member Cheryl Gaines said even if the land remains green space it will be a win for the town because that would fit with the character of the rest of the ISSCS property. Others acknowledge the Town might not get all of its costs back if the end use is green space.

Editor's note:

This story has been changed to reflect the fact Mr. Africano purchased the land from the state, not the Town. GLT has also added the fact the purchase was in 1991.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.