Huntley Square demolition viewed as a sign of progress in Carpentersville
When demolition began last month on Huntley Square in Carpentersville, Village Manager Eric Johnson wasn't the only one who wanted to watch.
As he drove toward the corner of Route 31 and Huntley Road, he noticed people lingering near the beleaguered office and retail center to take pictures as the structure met its demise.
It's the end of an era for the village, but to Carpentersville officials, it's also a signal of progress.
"It's almost unrecognizable from a month ago," Johnson said. "It's definitely a positive step forward. It gives it a blank slate to help people imagine what it could be."
That rebirth is driven by Otto Engineering President Tom Roeser, a fierce advocate for development whose firm is the largest employer in Carpentersville.
His frustration level grew as Huntley Square, built in the 1980s, deteriorated over the years -- especially since it became vacant in 2017. Roeser, who has spent millions of dollars redeveloping various parts of Carpentersville, saw the site as another opportunity for revitalization.
"It's the thing we saw every morning," Roeser said. "As an engineer, when you see a problem you know you can fix, you should fix it.
"Everything around Carpentersville over the past 30 years has driven me a little nuts because there was no real strategic plan by the government, so I just did it myself. This current government in Carpentersville has done a very good job working with businesses."
The village tried unsuccessfully for years to buy the rundown property from an out-of-state owner, a process that wound up in court. Roeser stepped in last year and bought the 3-acre site for $1,050,000. He estimates demolition costs at $685,000.
In October, the village and Otto Engineering entered into an agreement in which Roeser will sell the property at cost to the village if he's unable to find a developer by the end of 2021. Considering the asking price from the previous owner was $2 million without demolition, the village stands to save hundreds of thousands of dollars if it ends up purchasing the site from Roeser.
Village President John Skillman believes Huntley Square is a glowing example of what can happen with public-private cooperation.
"We've obviously been working closely with Tom Roeser and Otto Engineering," Skillman said. "It's been great to work with them."
When Skillman last checked in on Huntley Square before demolition began, he stopped by the shuttered dry cleaner he frequented for 20 years. Clothes never picked up still lingered inside.
With an eclectic mix of retail businesses and offices for dentists and attorneys, Huntley Square provided a bit of everything to residents through the decades. Skillman said the village has been in contact with developers with various goals for the site, which he believes could range from retail to condos to a hotel.
Roeser said he's confident he won't need to sell the property to the village at the end of the year. He anticipates finding a developer to build an apartment complex of up to 100 units.
Although an analysis of the property indicated the structure needed to be razed, the underground garage with nearly 100 parking spaces was deemed structurally sound. It provides a tremendous amenity for potential buyers.
The prominent intersection also recently finished an extensive rebuild that took more than two years to complete. After enduring traffic delays and the sight of the decaying property on the southwest corner, Carpentersville residents are ready to benefit from their patience.
"I'm getting so many great, positive comments from people about what's going on there," Skillman said. "It's really awesome to see."
Roeser anticipates demolition to be completed in the next couple of weeks, which doesn't leave much time for folks to grab a final picture of Carpentersville history.
The future isn't far behind.