A union group is proposing converting the McLean County-owned Fairview Building in Normal into senior housing.
The Laborers' Home Development Corporation gave its pitch to the County Board's property committee Thursday. The LHDC is looking to build 41 affordable senior housing units at the site at 905 N. Main St. where the historic building has sat empty for years.
LHDC Executive Director Jayne Lourash told the committee the corporation could have several options for taking over the building, including buying or leasing it from the county. She said the LHDC doesn’t have a “typical ask,” but added the city of Paris, Illinois, recently donated a former high school that it is converting into senior apartments.
“It’s what the city, the community has been willing and able to do,” she said.
Lourash noted that old high school was designed by Bloomington-Normal architect Arthur Pillsbury. He had also designed the Fairview building.
LDHC marketing representative Tim Ryan said the building's exterior is still in great shape, but most of the apartments would be built in a three-story addition on vacant land next to it.
Lourash said the site is ideal for senior living as it's next door to the county nursing home.
“There’s developers out there now making these big, huge aging-in-place complexes, the skilled nursing care is already there,” she said. “So then you have independent seniors a stone’s throw (away), which I think is very convenient for the aging community.”
Lourash said the corporation would be seeking low-income housing tax credits from through the Illinois Housing Development Authority which she said would necessary for the project to happen and could take several years to secure.
“For every $4 requested in tax credits, there’s $1 available, so it’s competitive,” she explained.
She said the tax credits could depend on the mix of units available to residents who live at different levels below the area’s median income. She added the LDHC wasn’t planning to seek market rate housing.
Committee member Elizabeth Johnston said she was encouraged to hear that.
“There’s a huge need in the community,” Johnston said. “I’ve heard from many people who are looking to downsize, but when they look to downsize, it isn’t saving them any money if they try to sell their house. Having this kind of availability would be wonderful.”
Lourash said the corporation would also seek state and federal historic tax credits.
Lourash estimated the cost at $13 million and said it would likely take several years before construction could begin.
Ryan said the county had approached the union about finding a use for the property. The county has explored uses for the building or possibly tearing it down if it couldn’t repurpose it.
Ryan added the corporation has a preference to rent to veterans when possible, noting the planned opening of the Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Bloomington could increase demand for senior housing in the area.
“Our chairman is a veteran, so we always, always try to make sure to reach out to veterans,” Ryan said. “Now with the VA actually being here in Bloomington-Normal, I think that will make it much easier to reach that veteran population.”
County officials are expected to decide in the coming months what they want to do with the property.
Property Committee Chairman Josh Barnett said he was pleased that at least the county has an option to save the building.
“After it’s been sitting empty for a few years, it’s exciting to hear there are other possibilities out there,” Barnett said.
The Fairview Building formerly housed the county’s tuberculosis sanatorium.
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