DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — A last-ditch effort to save the 100-year-old Bresee Tower is being spearheaded by the next generation in Danville.
The city, led by Mayor Rickey Williams Jr., has been working toward demolishing it since it took ownership of the 12-story structure in May. Williams argues the time to repair has passed.
The tallest building in Vermilion County has been sitting empty, in disrepair for more than 15 years. Today, it’s condemned and deteriorating to the point that the city put up a wide-perimeter fence in the last three years to protect pedestrians and cars from falling debris.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a local that would argue against something needing to be done as soon as possible, but there remains a community in Danville that can’t picture their city without it.
20-year-old Danville native and local Thomas Strain, and his small team of crusaders, are asking the city to give restoration — of what was originally the 1918 First National Bank building — one final consideration.
“I’ve kind of fallen in love with it, you know, growing up around it and seeing it so tall in the sky since I was a kid,” Strain said in an interview on the upper floor of the historical DLO Musical Theatre building where, out of a south-facing window, there’s a clear view of the Bresee tower.
“There’s not a building like it outside of Chicago. And to just have it in our little tiny city of Danville, I think it’s really important to preserve.”
His team includes Quinn Adamowski, the regional advocacy manager at nonprofit preservation group Landmarks Illinois, Chicago-based affordable housing developer Scott Henry, and two other natives, including Strain’s counterpart and ‘Save Bresee Tower’ social media manager Mackenzie Kizer.
“My first memory of it would probably just be coming over the Ellsworth Bridge and, like, seeing it in the distance,” Strain recalled. “That’s how I knew I was home. I’d be like, ‘Oh, Danville is right there. I’m home.'”
He’s circulating a petition, calling on city leadership to “seek out redevelopment options” by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP). 114 signatures was the count Thursday on the change.org petition, which likely includes some signers from outside of Danville and Illinois altogether.
Mayor Williams declined an interview but stood by what he told WCIA 3 in June, which is that the city will not issue an RFP for redevelopment.
Williams asserted this summer that he talked to developers in years past about potential redevelopment and despite his efforts, nothing ever came to fruition.
“My premise is that if professional people who specialize in this work couldn’t obtain a developer when the building was in much better condition, what expectation does a City have in doing so?” he said in June.
That said, the tower’s future wasn’t in the City of Danville’s control until this year, meaning, issuing an RFP has only been an option since May.
“I can definitely understand where why he wants to tear it down and get it out of here. It’s been a very long time that it’s just been sitting there,” Strain said. “People call it you know, the city’s biggest sign of blight and I could see why the mayor would want to get rid of that to, you know, start a new era of a cleaner Danville.”
Strain, on the other hand, has a different descriptor for the Bresee Tower: A “diamond in the rough.”
“It’s still a beautiful building, you still see its beauty even though it’s in a serious state of dilapidation,” he explained.
“I think it just needs a little bit of love and care, just like the rest of our city does.”
Scott Henry, an executive with affordable housing developer Celadon Partners, LLC (and a member of Strain’s informal revitalization team) told WCIA 3 he will submit a proposal if the city issued an RFP that includes plans for the attached former Vermilion County Courthouse Annex.
In 2017, he provided a floor plan and cost estimates to former Mayor Scott Eisenhower.
“He made it pretty clear that the [city council] was not going to accept it,” Henry said in a June interview with WCIA.
So far, Danville Aldermen signed off on a $63,0000 agreement this summer with engineering and architecture firm Farnsworth Group to help the city with demolition planning and hiring a contractor. The RFP for the contractor is still being developed, Williams said.
City Council has the final vote in approving an RFP.
That’s two months behind the estimated schedule listed on the agreement document with Farnsworth Group which set bidding for a contractor in September and demolition beginning as of last month.
“We had to have an asbestos survey and a few other items specifically assessed to ensure that it includes the appropriate scope of work,” Williams said in late October when asked for an update.
Meanwhile, the former owners of the tower, Chris and Jeri Collins, in June appealed the Vermilion County Circuit judge’s decision to declare it abandoned, which allowed for the later transfer of the building to the city.
The appeal won’t affect the city’s ability to move forward with demolition, Williams said.
Strain said he plans to submit the petition to the city at 500 signatures.
“Our hope would be that other developers come forward with a solid plan and solid financial backing to complete the project,” he added.