The building that once housed Elgin Community College classes and before that a Sears department store is well on its way to becoming apartment and studio space for Elgin artists.
The project, a partnership between Minneapolis-based Artspace and the city of Elgin, is supposed to be complete in October with 55 rental units to be ready for individuals and families by the end of the year.
Community members and prospective renters had a chance to tour the construction site Tuesday during the Downtown Neighborhood Association's January Out to Lunch event.
Sylvia Grady, Art Showcase coordinator for the city, has been involved in the Artspace project since Elgin officials first started looking into it about three years ago.
"When you have all these creative people living in the same area, they're going to come up with such wonderful things for the community," Grady said. "The creative energy that they spark is going to revitalize the downtown."
John Shales, president of Elgin-based Shales McNutt Construction, said the building was gutted before renovations began. Ceilings were opened up, walls were torn down and carpets were ripped out. A skylight on the second floor, boarded up for more years than anyone can remember, will come back to flood the open first floor with natural light.
"We will restore it, making this gallery absolutely spectacular," Shales said.
Besides getting ready to start plumbing, heating and electrical work in the old building, Shales McNutt is also heading up construction of an adjoining building of almost 42,000 square feet.
The total area of the Artspace project will be 100,500 square feet with almost 6,000 square feet of retail space.
Grady said the affordable housing is not meant to attract just painters and two- or three-dimensional artists. Artspace will reach out to musicians, dancers, singers, writers, poets, jewelry makers and even architects to fill the apartments, which range from studios to three-bedrooms.
Councilman John Steffen attended Tuesday's tour, looking at the progress of a project to which the council has contributed 16 acres, $750,000 and another $250,000 in tax increment financing money, which can only be used for development in the TIF district.
Steffen said that contribution, used to leverage a $14.5 million project, was well worth it. He said he was glad good weather was keeping the construction workers on schedule.
"The sooner they can open the better," Steffen said.