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Effort To Make Demolition Of State Farm Building More Difficult On Hold

State Farm downtown
Eric Stock
Mayor Tari Renner says he doesn't "see any reason why" current plans for the State Farm building would fall through.

The Historic Preservation Commission had been set to hold hearings on two historic landmark nominations for the downtown building State Farm is offloading.

But Mayor Tari Renner said those won’t be needed.

Now that a new buyer has come forward, a neighborhood group and the Save the State Farm Building coalition are standing down.

“They have certainly dropped a request for the S-4 zoning for the building,” Renner said, “and I think that given the background of Urban (Equity Properties)—that is their background with dealing with historic downtown buildings—I think that they’ve been very pleased with this development.”

Renner said he is not sure how the Save the State Farm Building coalition can continue to contribute to the development plans.

Another petition for an S-4 designation remains pending. But, Historic Preservation Commission Chair Lea Cline said she has tabled the request from the Franklin Park Foundation for procedural reasons. Cline said it is unusual for such a request to come from an entity that is not the owner. And it is important to allow an owner representation and a chance to respond to the petition.

Cline said any petition has to go through the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, and the City Council. It can be a two to three month process.

"With the timeline, it is likely ownership could change before all the relevant bodies consider the petition. With a new owner the whole process would have to start over," said Cline.

She pointed out not only would an S-4 designation create another hoop to jump through before there could be any demolition, it offers opportunities for an owner to be eligible for certain rehabilitation or preservation grants. 

Last month, WGLT highlighted several historic buildings in other cities saved from the wrecking ball. All of them needed public sector involvement.

Renner said there have been no requests yet but if and when that happens there would be limits.

“The policy that we’ve had in Bloomington has been that a project has to pay for itself. So if you want some sort of rebate back it has to come from your investment, not from our city's treasury.”

One buyer has already fallen through, and State Farm had given up on finding another, announcing plans to tear it down. The current proposal to put luxury apartments on some floors is still in development.

But what if this one falls through too?

Renner said there might be other things the community could resort to but doesn’t want to borrow trouble by speculating about that.

“This is the main prospect that we have and I don’t see any reason why, from all that I’ve understood about what’s going on and the involvement that I’ve had, that this is going to fall through.”

Some in the community have criticized the city for not doing more to keep the downtown viable. But Renner said without pre-existing city efforts to improve the downtown, create the Route 66 visitors center, and ongoing discussions about a possible downtown transfer center for the area bus system, Connect Transit, the new buyer for the State farm building would not have come forward.

As a matter of disclosure, WGLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is the chair of the Connect Transit board.

(Editors Note: This story has been changed to make clear a second S-4 petition remains pending, and background about the process and meaning of the S-4 designation.)

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.