Unit 4 board rejects group's second, higher offer for Burnham mansion

Unit 4 board rejects group's second, higher offer for Burnham mansion

CHAMPAIGN — A group hoping to buy the 134-year-old Burnham mansion from the Champaign school district said its second bid has been rejected.

Carolyn Baxley, who launched Friends of Burnham Mansion, said the group raised its first offer of $389,618 for the house at 603 W. Church St., C, made last month, to $450,000.

The school district and group are still far apart on money and terms.

On the district's list of conditions to sell the house, a land swap involving $1.47 million worth of properties is the big one, according to Todd Salen, the Sperry Van Ness/Ramshaw Realtor representing the Friends group.

"I think the school board has said unless we can come up with a land swap, they're not interested in receiving another offer," Salen said.

The Friends group called the district's terms to sell the house "unworkable and unduly restrictive and burdensome."

"It's just unfortunate. We hoped that they would relent and sell it for a fair price, but it looks like that isn't going to happen," Baxley said.

Terms of the land trade would involve the Friends group acquiring four properties near Central High School — at 510 W. Park Ave., 511 W. Church St., 617 W. Church St. and 206 N. New St., all of which add up to a fair market value of $1,473,380, according to Baxley and Salen.

The district would then trade the Burnham house and another property at 607 W. Church St. for those four properties — and it would retain an option to buy and the right of first refusal on the Burnham house and the property at 607 W. Church St., if they're sold again down the road.

Among other terms the Friends group would need to meet is renovating the Burnham house to public accommodation standards, with that obligation secured by a letter of credit. The district would have reasonable oversight over the reuse of the property, with residential use being prohibited.

Another condition on the prospective buyers would be the razing of the property at 607 W. Church St. to accommodate a parking lot to be used by the Burnham house during normal business hours and made available to the school district and public at other times.

Plus, the city would need to agree to vacate Lynn Street between Church Street and Park Avenue and donate that right-of-way to the school district. The Friends group would also have to t the Burnham house property so the school district would retain a part of it next to Lynn Street.

Baxley's group made its first offer on the Burnham house, last used to house a dozen apartments, in response to the school district's plans to tear it down and replace it with a parking lot for the high school.

Baxley said the Friends group has already agreed to renovate the house to the standards being asked, to refrain from using it for residential purposes and to give the school district a right of first refusal.

"Given the expansion of Central High School, the Friends group believes that the highest and best use for the house would be for school classes or classrooms and is very willing to work with the school board to ensure that future for the house," the group said in a statement Friday.

While the group's second offer on the Burnham house was higher, Champaign school board President Chris Kloeppel said it still wasn't a good deal for taxpayers.

"In no way is it a win for the taxpayers and the district," he said.

Kloeppel also said the Friends group chose to meet only some of the district's conditions.

"There's still not something being presented to the board but an offer on a property that isn't for sale," he said.

Baxley contended that $1.4 million is four times the value of the house the group wants to buy. And, she said, "it's basically ridiculous on the face of it to expect us to acquire all those properties."

She said her group will be considering its next move.

"We don't want to give up on the house," she said.

Sections (2):News, Local

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
d43 wrote on February 10, 2018 at 8:02 am

A company similar to the one below can catalog and dismantle the house for future reconstruction at another site.  An expensive option, but not any more than the 1.4 million that Unit 4 is asking.


Kirsten wrote on February 10, 2018 at 9:02 am

I have to think Unit 4 would sell the house for a dollar if the Friends group would take care of moving it. Why don't they put their money into that?

rsp wrote on February 10, 2018 at 10:02 am

The district had offered to help pay for moving it. The response they got back was part of it's value is by sitting in that neighborhood. I can understand that but if your choice is move it or lose it? Now if I had serious money and was building or remodelling a house, I would look at parts to add interest. But no way would I try to move it.

Thewatcher wrote on February 10, 2018 at 10:02 am

They don’t seem to get it. It’s not about the money, it’s about the land. The property isn’t for sale because the district needs the land. Like another person said, they’d probably give the house away as long as the district could keep the land. That spot is crucial to their overall plan. 

RGs wrote on February 10, 2018 at 1:02 pm

Unit 4 also "needs" to close off public streets as part of their plans. Some would argue, too, that this would be "critical" to their overall plan. However, the fact of the matter remains, that they, knowingly, assumed certain risks, on behalf of taxpayers?, for decisions they made to proceed with their plans. The deal-with-laters. The Burnham & Root deisgned house (which qualifies for National Landmark status), that they stated under oath at Plan Commission they knew of from very early on in their planning process, but, went ahead and assumed the risk of  fallout from the decision to ultimately put it before the wrecking ball. Drainage; parking (did they disclose to voters how many parking spots their plans actually require by law/ordiance? Can the number of parking spots required by law even fit in that neighborhood? given competitive sports field requirements, as well?);  landmarked street lights "critical" to their overall plan that they are now asking for "flexibility" on;  protected brick pavers, "crticial" to their overall plan, they want to rip out, etc. This included knowing that Burnham, at the very least, qualified for Landmark status (per Landmarks IL, PACA). If the city wishes to lose its Certified Local Government status and associated funding resources, it might seem that they are well on their way to doing that if they continue to proceed with their waving-on of all things Central High without regard for their own preservation ordinances associated with maintaining Certified Local Government status. They are in a neighborhood. Residences abound. It seems very limited thinking and problem solving that the entire project will be ruined or so "substantially" compromised if a parking lot can't sit where Burnham sits. I sure hope we don't see the $2.4 million it would take to updgrade Burnham spent on "new" district admin offices somewhere else. I recall there being talk of moving admin offices from New St. some time (years) ago. Just after they renovated it. They talked of selling it, shortly thereafter. There's no bringing back the national historic landmark at that point. 

RGs wrote on February 10, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Wait. What response back? It seems that during the November 15, 2017 Plan Commission Meeting that a couple of Unit 4 board members, &, an attorney representing Unit 4, stated, under oath, that they never heard back from PACA (and/or, Landmarks, IL?) after the board president publicly stated, in the NG (July, 2016), that they were sending a letter to PACA to involve them in the planning process for Central. Is that lying under oath? 

RGs wrote on February 11, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Call it what you wish. It is unfortunate that a Board of Education, as well as City Council members of a college town, are are unable to appreciate the educational opportunities more progressive cities embrace concerning Daniel Burnham. The conversations leading up to Unit 4's referendum focused a lot on how Bloomington's athletic factilies are better than Champaign's, with, "21st c. Education," thrown around, nondescriptly. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Wacker's Manual of the Plan of Chicago, published in the early 1900s, and, once taught to stduents in Chicago Public Schools, is being "modernized" and reintroduced into the educational arena. I am not sure you can, borrowing the parlance of Patrick Fitzgerald, "with a straight face," introduce such curriculum into Unit 4 high schools, given that city plannning here, as a joint effort with Unit 4, involves the obliteration of a Burnham & Root home for a parking lot. Some say Burnham's ultimate green space is found in the area of his grave marker at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. It is somewhat of an "island" of green space. Parking lots? Asphalt over aesthetics?  Not so much his thing. I think he would be horrified, from a City Planning/neighborhood perspective, by what Unit 4 and the City of Champaign are doing to the neighborhood around Central. Particularly given existing alternatives. I guess the educational lesson in Unit 4 schools could be, "Make No Bad Plans" (such as we did). 


Every copy we sell enables us to give a copy away to a Chicago teen.

No Small Plans is a graphic novel that follows the neighborhood adventures of teens in Chicago's past, present and future as they wrestle with designing the city they want, need and deserve.

The 144-page novel was published in July 2017. It's inspired by the 1911 Wacker's Manual textbook that taught Chicago's young people about Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago. Over the next three years, CAF will work to give free copies of the novel to 30,000 teens and catalyze conversations in Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Libraries about what makes a good neighborhood.



Thewatcher wrote on February 10, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Wow, that’s quite the witch hunt you keep going on and on about. 

justthefacts wrote on February 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

This issue is a perfect example of why it is almost always less complicated and less expensive to build on undeveloped land than it is to repurpose an existing neighborhood. Those who were committed to keeping Central central will have to live with the consequences of their committment.