Final effort to save Elgin's DC Cook building fails
The former headquarters of a Christian publishing company failed to receive divine intervention from the wrecking ball Wednesday night as Elgin City Council members rejected a plan that would have made the city the new owners of the DC Cook property.
With a vote of 5 to 4, the council cleared the way for demolition to continue at the site, erasing a 120-year-old building beloved in its local neighborhood from the map.
The letter of intent the council rejected featured a purchase price of $3.75 million for the full 9-acre property. The city would have also paid all the closing costs, the expense to cancel the demolition contract and given the warehouse buildings to DC Cook for two years in a zero-rent lease.
Demolition work had already begun, including the removal of the roof on the former headquarters building. The interior of the building was filled with mold, significant water damage, asbestos and unknown other problems. With that in mind, council members suggested the actual costs of buying and stabilizing the property were more than $5 million.
That number represented too great of a cost, and unknown future costs, for council members Rose Martinez, Steve Thoren, Dustin Good, Toby Shaw and Mayor David Kaptain. All five voted against the plan.
"In a time when we have people who can't pay their rent, can't pay their water bill, is this the highest and best use of money in the city of Elgin?" Kaptain said. "I find this to be irresponsible."
Kaptain said the city put an offer in on the property without knowing where the money will come from to pay for it, without knowing the structural condition of the building everyone wants to save and without knowing what it can or will be used for.
Thoren went as far as to predict taxes would have to be raised in the city as a result of buying the property.
"We are already at well over $5 million, and we still don't have a structure," Thoren said. "We just have a mess. We can't spend that kind of money on a mural that's going to be there. You've seen what it looks like now. If we buy it, we'll be lucky to get a roof on it by the end of the year."
The minority of the city council that voted in favor of the plan supported Councilman John Steffen's vision for the property. He believes the property, which is appraised at $1.2 million, could generate up to $7 million over 20 years if placed into a tax increment finance district that courts new housing on the site.
"There is a way to pay for this and not have the burden fall on the entire community," Steffen said.
He said there are at least four groups eyeing the property for "legitimate proposals" that have all stalled because DC Cook won't allow them to get onto the site and properly assess the potential.
Council members who agreed with Steffen said the money would have been an investment in the history, culture and future of the city.
"This could be our next (Elgin) Tower Building," said Council Member Tish Powell. "This could be our next Shoe Factory Homes."
That won't happen now. DC will maintain ownership of the property. Demolition is expected to recommence immediately.