Elgin group needs help saving 1885 David C. Cook mansion
Flashlight in hand, Dan Miller has roamed the dank, empty rooms of the David C. Cook mansion in Elgin dozens of times. He's shown it to fellow historic house lovers, couples interested in giving it new life and curious reporters.
He loves to point out original details inside the 1885 mansion, like the barely visible stained glass windows, the special lincrusta embossed wallpapering and the fancy encaustic tiles that cover the first floor. He bemoans that the original parlor fireplaces were removed years ago by a salvage company after the property went into foreclosure.
"At times I am very, very depressed. It literally makes me cry when I think about what happened here," Miller said. "At times I'm excited about it. At times I am overwhelmed."
Miller is the president of the nonprofit Gifford Park Association, which hopes someone will restore the home at 105 N. Gifford St. to its old glory. The mansion is among six of its stature -- as in, "unusually huge houses of the very rich" -- left in Elgin, which has lost 27 such mansions over time, Miller said. "We can't lose this."
The association recently commissioned a $6,000 feasibility study -- paid for by the association, a grant from Landmark Illinois, the city of Elgin and the bank that owns the property -- that showed it would cost $1.2 million to $1.5 million to convert it back into a single-family home, $1.4 million to convert it into a two-family home and $1.5 to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
The estimates include knocking down several additions built over the years to return the mansion to its original appearance. The 12-room house was inhabited until 1945, when it was turned into a nursing home, most recently Bowes Retirement Home that closed in 2010.
The mansion has deteriorated from sitting empty and needs a heating and electric system overhaul, but its bones "are fantastic," Miller said.
The association has committed $50,000 to the project and hopes the city will contribute some tax-increment financing money, Miller said.
City Manager Rick Kozal said he doesn't believe using TIF money to "substantially" finance such a project would be "a sound economic investment."
"The best-suited projects for TIF funding are those that will increase the property tax base within the district the most," he said.
Miller also wants city officials to seek an expansion of the River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program to include the mansion, whose redevelopment would then be eligible for state and federal historic tax credits.
Kozal said regulations about such tax credits require the benefiting project to be income-producing, so redeveloping the mansion into a one- or two-family home wouldn't qualify. Kozal also pointed out pending legislation awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature would expand the state historic tax credit statewide.
Meanwhile, Miller, who is donating his time, has been marketing the property online. He has shown it to three interested parties, including a couple that drove up from North Carolina, but so far nothing's moved forward, he said.
Mutual of Omaha Bank is willing to sell the mansion for $1 to "any responsible party willing to take on the project," said Ryan Maloley, special assets officer for the bank.
The "fair cash," or market, value of the home dropped from about $802,000 in 2015 to $460,000 after it was reassessed in 2016, said John Emerson, supervisor of tax extension/redemption department for the Kane County clerk.
The bank hasn't paid property taxes for the mansion since 2014, Kane County records show. There are two tax liens on the property, one for $75,672 held by a company out of Louisiana and one for $17,402 held by a Chicago company, Emerson said.
First up for tax lien redemption Nov. 1 is the Louisiana company, TTLBL LLC, which didn't return a request for comment. Emerson said it doesn't appear the company is making any move to try to take ownership of the property.
Maloley declined to say why the bank hasn't paid taxes, but said there have been "substantial" maintenance and other costs over the years, but didn't specify what kind. The bank continues to maintain the property, he said.
"Although nothing has materialized to date, the bank believes it is only a matter of time before someone takes this opportunity to add great value to the neighborhood," he said.