DANVILLE — As city officials await an engineering report on Collins Tower based on up-close drone footage, the owners of Danville’s tallest building — formerly Bresee Tower — say their current development plan hinges on a casino coming to the downtown area.
Jeri Lynn Collins, who owns the vacant, century-old building with her husband, Chris, said they have developed a new partnership with former Danville bankers Craig and Kim Campbell.
“This is contingent on their group being awarded the downtown casino location,” said Collins, referring to the city’s ongoing process of choosing a developer and operator to apply for a casino license granted by the state. “We are excited with this new partnership, which brings new opportunity to the table. We have had numerous setbacks during the year since we purchased the tower.”
She said their general plan is to renovate the tower into a boutique-style hotel, but they’ve had partners and investors come and go, setting back their plans each time.
“We feel that this new partnership will only move us forward in helping not only to renovate the tower, but to help bring more to the downtown area,” Jeri Collins said.
The Campbells have made it clear at recent city council meetings that their group is continuing to pull together a plan to develop a casino downtown despite city officials saying that the top two proposals are focusing on a site near Interstate 74 on the city’s eastern edge.
A steering committee will be issuing its recommendation on the casino proposals to aldermen in the next week or so.
The city has received three proposals altogether; Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. has said two of them are strong, and both of those use the I-74 site.
As that process moves forward, Williams and city officials, including newly hired City Engineer Sam Cole, are continuing to monitor the tower, which sits in the same block as City Hall. The city recently expanded the area around the tower that it blocked off to protect pedestrians and vehicles from falling debris, cordoning off the outside westbound lane of Main Street.
City officials have communicated to the Collinses that they want more safety features at the site to protect citizens from any debris that might break away from the crumbling terra cotta façade that covers at least half of the building.
Earlier this year, large chunks from a ledge just above the first-floor windows overlooking Main Street fell onto scaffolding that the Collinses had placed there in hopes of fixing it up.
The Collinses, who live in another state, said they travel to Danville at least monthly, are retired and use as much of their retirement income as they can to take care of the tower but need investors to make the entire project possible.
At this point, the city is also more focused on the safety issue.
“I want everything to be done,” Williams said of the tower. “But more than anything, I need them to keep our people safe.”
The city is in the process of researching what it might cost to demolish the vacant century-old former office building that is connected to the county government’s former courthouse annex, which is now also vacant while awaiting the fate of the tower.
“We must be prepared and know what we are dealing with,” said Williams, referring to estimates on razing the structure. He said engineers used drones Thursday to get a closer look at the building’s façade “so we can have a better look at what exactly is going on, cosmetically and structurally. I have not had a report from engineers yet.”
He said he expects information from the drone footage sometime this week, and the Collinses have sent him “some type of engineering plans” to address immediate safety issues, so city officials are assessing those, too.
Jeri Lynn Collins said she and her husband are moving forward with a backup plan and continuing to search for a partner and investor to join them if the Campbells’ group does not win the bid for a downtown casino.
“The Campbell family is aware of this ongoing search and backup plan necessity,” she said.
Regarding whether any safety features will be installed on the building this year — particularly safety netting, as has been discussed by city officials — Collins said she and her husband have spent the past year obtaining evaluations and quotes for renovations to both the exterior and interior.
“Our first and only focus at this time is the exterior of the tower,” she said. “We have requirements from the city of Danville that must be met prior to obtaining any permits to begin work. We are working with a company from Kentucky regarding the safety netting. We have received instructions from the Kentucky company and have sent that to the mayor.”
Collins said they hope to do work on the façade by the end of this year, but decisions must be made first, specifically what material would be used to fix it.
Last year, the Collinses completed the application process to have the tower placed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, to which it was added a year ago.
As a privately owned building, that designation does not limit what can be done to it and does not prohibit demolition, but any renovations would be subject to review if the Collinses take advantage of the Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
In researching options for the façade, Collins said they have learned of three types of materials that could be used, only two of which would be allowed if they use the tax-credit program:
— More terra cotta, which is “the most expensive option, and I believe the most difficult along with the most time-consuming,” she said.
— Glass-fiber-reinforced concrete, which they were told “would look identical to the terra cotta and is more cost-effective along with time-effective,” she said.
— More modern material, such as an exterior insulation finishing system, which would be about 25 percent of the cost of the other materials but would not be allowed under the tax-credit program.
“We know how important this project is to the citizens,” Collins said. “We’re focusing on safety first and know that the detour along Main Street is inconvenient but is also currently necessary to protect the public. We are working as quickly as possible to remedy this issue.”