Can 118-year-old building in Elgin be saved?

  • Publishing company David C. Cook wants to demolish its vacant office building at 850 N. Grove Ave. in Elgin. The neighborhood group says it is working with the city to try to come up with a plan to avoid that.

      Publishing company David C. Cook wants to demolish its vacant office building at 850 N. Grove Ave. in Elgin. The neighborhood group says it is working with the city to try to come up with a plan to avoid that. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • David C. Cook, a Christian publishing company based in Colorado, abandoned its Elgin headquarters in 1995 but continues to operate its warehouse in the back of the property 850 N. Grove Ave.

      David C. Cook, a Christian publishing company based in Colorado, abandoned its Elgin headquarters in 1995 but continues to operate its warehouse in the back of the property 850 N. Grove Ave. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/2/2019 8:22 PM

The company that owns a 118-year-old, long-vacant building north of downtown Elgin wants to demolish it, and a local neighborhood group said it is working with the city to try to find a way to save it.

The 24,000-square-foot office building at 850 N. Grove Ave. has been vacant since 1995, when David C. Cook, a Christian publishing company, moved its headquarters to Colorado. The building is on an 8-acre property that includes a 200,000-square-foot warehouse in back, where the company conducts publishing and distribution operations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

David C. Cook had planned to demolish the office building in November but agreed to wait until January, giving time to the city and the Northeast Neighborhood Association of Elgin to come up with a plan to avoid demolition and ideally repurpose the building or at least redevelop the property in a suitable way, association President K. Eric Larson said. David C. Cook Chief Operating Officer Scott Miller -- who met with Larson and city staff members in mid-September -- agreed to present the plan, if any, at his company's board of directors meeting in November, Larson said.

"A number of people have proposed all kinds of interesting potential uses for the office building and even the warehouse," he said, "but to my knowledge we're not aware of anybody having an actionable plan that is financially viable yet."

Ideas include turning the warehouse into modern residential lofts, and turning the building into a combination of public space and "niche" business space such as artists studios, or a museum space with a focus on historic neighborhoods and smaller local collections, he said.

David C. Cook CEO Cris Doornbos didn't return a request for comment.

City spokeswoman Molly Gillespie didn't answer questions, only saying, "D.C. Cook has not applied for a demolition permit while representatives from D.C. Cook, NENA and the city have been discussing their respective concerns regarding the property's future."

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The building has a hole in the roof, some leaks and mold in several spots, according to a memo written in late June by Elgin Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley and Community Development Marc Mylott and addressed to City Manager Rick Kozal. A contractor hired by David C. Cook determined that "updating the interior systems and stabilizing the structure" will cost $3.8 million.

The city proposed paying for "stopgap" roof repairs, but David C. Cook was not interested, the memo states. The company also was not interested in selling the office building alone but would sell the entire 8-acre property to the city for $4 million, the memo states.

COO Miller said the company is committed to staying in Elgin and would move to a different warehouse in town if the property is sold, Larson said.

Mayor David Kaptain and Councilman Terry Gavin said there have been no discussions about buying the property; both said they are not interested in that. "I don't know what we would do with it," Kaptain said.

Kane County treasurer records show the property at 850 N. Grove Ave. is owned by Cook Communications Ministries, which paid $64,296 in 2018 property taxes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The memo said city staff members were researching whether the property could be included in the Central Area Tax-Increment Financing District. In that case, property tax funds could be funneled into redevelopment/improvements for the property, helping its potential resale value.

Gavin said he is open to having conversations with any interested developer and would be willing to invest TIF funds into the property.

"Not general fund money, not riverboat money," he said, referring to revenues from Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin. "We don't have the cash for that kind of thing."

Kaptain pointed out that amending the TIF district would require approval from other local taxing bodies like Elgin Area School District U-46, which might be reluctant to forego future property tax revenues. "There are a lot of unanswered questions," he said.

Despite its age, the neoclassical building doesn't have historic landmark status and is not part of the adjacent historic district; either of those would prevent demolition. The memo states the city council could nominate the building for landmark status, which requires consideration from the city's heritage commission, but that "will in all likelihood compel D.C. Cook to immediately file an application for a demolition permit and halt the current negotiations it has been conducting with the city."

The Northeast Neighborhood Association of Elgin is having an informational meeting about preserving the David C. Cook building from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Sherman meeting room of the Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way.

People can find out how to get involved and give suggestions about the future of the building, Larson said.

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