For the first time in city history, Elgin council OKs landmark nomination against owner's wishes

  • The Elgin City Council nominated for landmark status a 1901 building at 850 N. Grove Ave. over the objections of its owner, the David C Cook publishing company.

      The Elgin City Council nominated for landmark status a 1901 building at 850 N. Grove Ave. over the objections of its owner, the David C Cook publishing company. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/23/2020 5:30 AM

The Elgin City Council nominated for landmark status a building over the objections of its owner, the first time this happened in city history, but with the hope that a viable, concrete development plan can be agreed upon.

The building at 850 N. Grove Ave. dates back to 1901 and belongs to Colorado-based David C Cook, a nonprofit Christian publishing company that wants to demolish it. The company "strongly opposes" giving it landmark status because it will cause it economic hardship, said its chief operating officer, Scott Miller, who flew in to attend the meeting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We have to take it down, for safety and for good stewardship," he said.

Some council members said the building should be preserved because it is a valuable part of the city's history; others said they don't want to force landmark designation onto a private property owner.

Council members Corey Dixon, Baldemar Lopez, Tish Powell, Carol Rauschenberger and John Steffen, as well as Mayor David Kaptain voted "yes." Council members Toby Shaw, Terry Gavin and Rose Martinez voted "no."

The matter will go to the heritage commission with a public hearing March 3 and recommendation to the council by April 10. The council would take a final vote April 22; six votes would be required to finalize landmark status due to the owner's objection. Kaptain cautioned that his vote in a few months might become a "no."

Kaptain and other council members said they hoped that the local neighborhood group, the Northeast Neighborhood Association, and David C Cook will use the next few months to communicate and collaborate on efforts to find a developer for the site.

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NENA representatives said they recently met with at least one developer, Andre Blakely of The Richman Group, who expressed serious interest in the building. David C Cook was informed of that after its local contractor applied for a demolition permit earlier this month.

Another real estate developer from Chicago, Dick Shields, attended Wednesday's meeting and said he'd be interested in taking a look at the building.

Giving landmark status to the building would protect it from demolition, although the owner could still try to get that done by claiming economic hardship or public safety concerns.

Several residents spoke both for and against allowing David C Cook to do as it pleases with its property.

Resident Donna Griffin-Lego, who lives a block away, said the neighborhood needs more parkland. "It's taking up a lot of space on a very nice spot and there is a lot of other things we can do with that land," she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Resident Tom Armstrong said "demolition would forever alter the character of the property and the neighborhood." The building also should be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places and included into the city's Central Area Tax-Increment Financing District, he said. That would allow its redevelopment to qualify for TIF funding and state and federal tax credits, just like the Tower Building downtown a few years ago.

However, that would mean using government funding for something that "no private investor in the world" would do, Shaw said.

An estimate commissioned by David C Cook says it would take $4 million to bring the building -- which has suffered water main break and flooding damage -- up to par, and more to develop it into residential, COO Miller said.

Councilmembers Shaw, Rauschenberger and Steffen live in the general neighborhood. That doesn't preclude them from voting on the matter because they get no financial gain from it, Shaw said.

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