DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — Renewed interest in saving Danville’s 100-year-old Bresee Tower has swelled in the two weeks since a Vermilion County judge transferred ownership of the building to the city for the first time in its history.
The mayor has been prepared to demolish it for about three years, and with the deed, the city now has the ability to make that happen. Advocates for saving it have been making noise ever since.
The city has not been presented with a formal plan to reimagine the 12-story building in several years, but there has been some interest from investors.
Quinn Adamowski, regional advocacy manager at nonprofit preservation group Landmarks Illinois said the redevelopment of the tallest building in Vermilion County remains doable.
The non-profit placed the Bresee Tower on its list of Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois back in 2012. 10 years later, he addressed a letter to Danville City Council members, asking them to explore options beyond demolition. The letter claims city leaders have a “duty to present taxpayers with all possible options for its future.”
“If the city of Danville issued an RFP [or Request for Proposal], like a legitimate RFP, and if no one came forward with an interest in redeveloping it: Okay. You did the right thing. And not every building can be saved.”
Danville has not put out a Request for Proposal, or RFP, a formal process governments use to attract and vet interested developers. The city didn’t have the option to do so until it took over ownership two weeks ago.
Mayor Rickey Williams jr. said he will not be issuing one, adding, “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.”
“it’s, I would argue, unrealistic to ask a developer to put together blueprints and drawings and a complete proposal and all the fine print. Like, why as a developer would I do that when there’s not there has been no RFP issued?” Adamowski said. “There’s no guarantee.”
Demolition has been the backup plan since the building went dormant in 2005, according to Mayor Williams and in the last decade, it’s become a public safety concern that became the sole responsibility of the city two weeks ago.
“Undoubtedly it’s serving as a public nuisance,” Adamowski noted. “But what would it hurt to at least go through the process?”
In an interview directly following the judicial deed hearing in late May, Williams said he has “met with probably six potential investors” since taking office in 2018, and without a formal plan in hand, he’s ready to tear it down and move on.
There was one such plan in 2017.
Scott Henry, an executive with affordable housing developer Celadon Partners, LLC provided a floor plan and cost estimates to former Mayor Scott Eisenhower in 2017.
Henry, representing the Chicago-based company said, “We were denied.”
Eisenhower did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
To this day, Henry believes “We can save this building.” Those conversations started back up years later with Mayor Williams, but the dialogue remained just that: preliminary conversations.
“He made it pretty clear that the board was not going to accept it,” Henry said, referring to the mayor.
Williams said in a message Wednesday that he recalls saying council members wouldn’t be interested in Section 8 “or no income housing” but they’d “probably consider” senior or other affordable housing “IF we had a lot of questions answered AND they provided us with a solid plan including financing and design.”
“This is not public housing. It doesn’t mean that we may not have a tenant that has a Section 8 voucher, we can’t turn those people away. But it’s really meant to be people that are they pay their rent,” Henry explained.
Adamowski backed Celadon’s project, saying the company “has a track record of wonderful adaptive reuse projects.”
However, Henry has no plans to move forward with another proposal without an RFP.
“I mean, we would want really strong assurances,” he said.
“it’s not like we can whip these presentations out easily, and it takes two minutes. It takes a lot of time and effort.”
In that interview two weeks ago, the mayor said he didn’t see any possibility Bresee Tower will be redeveloped at this point. Reporters asked again this week following a resurgence in interest among preservationists. Williams didn’t say “yes” or “no” but that he would “have a lot of questions” for a potential developer.
“If I can do anything to be supportive of just saving the building period even if it means that I don’t get to do the project that’s fine,” Henry concluded.
“I think it would just be a tragedy to see that building demolished.”
Henry provided reporters with an updated breakdown of how he imagines the project could be funded for redevelopment by Celadon in 2022. He estimated it would require a commitment of about $4 million in “soft sources from the city…but we could cover everything else.”
“So if it’s $24 million, we’re covering 20 of that 24 million.”
The mayor estimates demolition would cost the city $2.5 to $3 million.
The Tower is on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Adamowski who said that doesn’t prevent demolition but it could trigger further review “if state or federal dollars are used to do something with it,” or “if a state or federal permit has to be pulled in order to do something with it.”
There are a lot of “ifs” that remain unanswered, “which is why anytime that we get involved, we just automatically encourage whoever is pursuing this, just issue the RFP for redevelopment because ultimately, it’s very likely that you’re going to be asked to do that anyway,” Adamowski said.