DANVILLE — As another construction season slips away, scaffolding sits at the base of the former Bresee Tower in Danville. But there’s still no indication that any work will be done to fix the crumbling facade of the city’s tallest building, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Earlier this year, the city expanded the blocked-off area around the base of the former office tower, narrowing westbound Main Street to one lane in front of the building at 4 N. Vermilion St. in an effort to further protect drivers and pedestrians if chunks of the terra cotta facade continue to break off and fall.
The building is now Collins Tower, renamed by its new owners, Chris and Jeri Collins, after they acquired the building around June of last year with tentative plans to rehab it into a hotel.
“It’s still the city’s hope that Mr. and Mrs. Collins will follow through with their promise from last November to provide netting or some other security measure to protect the public until they can remedy issues,” said Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr., who is gathering, at the request of aldermen, estimates of what it might cost to demolish the building.
The Collinses have not returned phone calls from News-Gazette Media seeking comment.
City and county government officials have been concerned about the condition of the building for more than a decade. It’s been vacant since 2006, when the owners at that time, the Kentucky-based Forcht Group, ordered the last remaining tenants to vacate.
Originally an office building with First National Bank on the first floor, the landmark century-old building ended up with Forcht in 1993, when that company bought radio station WIAI, which was housed in the tower at the time. Forcht later sold the station, vacated Bresee, and let it sit idle as the facade deteriorated.
Eventually, the city filed a complaint in Vermilion County Circuit Court asking a judge to order that the building be repaired.
In 2007, after pieces of the terra cotta facade fell to the sidewalks below, Danville spent more than $21,000 on a system to protect passers-by. The city also filed a lien against Forcht in hopes of recouping that money, to no avail.
As the city continued to pressure the corporation for either repairs or demolition, Forcht donated Bresee to Scottie Porter, executive director of the Alabama-based nonprofit Historic Restoration Inc., in October 2017.
The city immediately filed suit against Porter’s organization that same month, still hoping to recoup costs. Finally, Porter sold the building to the Collinses in June 2018.
This week, Porter said his organization sold the tower “on terms — owner financing, if you will.”
He said his organization has been paid monthly, on time and in full, by the couple, according to their agreement, and the Collinses are the tower’s owners.
The Collinses have discussed a variety of plans for the tower, such as it becoming a boutique hotel or casino, but no exterior repairs have been made.
However, they did secure the historic designation for the structure.
Andrew Heckenkamp, coordinator of the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois, said the building was added to the register in September 2018. He said the original application was made in 2000, but the owners of the building at that time ultimately decided against following through.
Heckenkamp said the current owners indicated last year that they wanted to move forward with applying for the designation, which would qualify the building for the Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit program, which establishes a 25 percent state income tax credit for rehabilitating historic, income-producing properties.
Although Porter said there have been no issues with receiving his payments for the tower as requested in his agreement with the Collinses, its 2017 property taxes — due in September 2018 — went unpaid until June of this year. The original total owed was $13,596, but with the additional penalties, the final bill was $18,596, according to the Vermilion County Treasurer’s Office.
Porter said the past-due taxes were paid by his organization, “a contractual obligation that we had overlooked.”
“Simply an oversight on our part,” he said, “Although painful to pay the interest and penalties, it was always our responsibility.”
This year’s tax bill for the tower is much lower.
Since at least 2014, it had been more than $11,300. This year, it dropped to $287.
Rick Rohrer, supervisor of assessments for Danville Township, said that’s because the building’s value has dropped drastically to “salvage” status.
Rohrer said he had considered applying that status in the past due to its condition, but multiple antennas on the roof were still generating lease revenue for the previous owners. It’s now his understanding that that situation has changed.
Porter said just one antenna lease remains — with Sprint. He did not say how much it generates.
The tower’s condition is also a concern for Vermilion County government officials, because the former Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building is physically connected to it and shares below-ground utilities.
Several years ago, the county moved its main annex entrance away from the base of the tower. That old entrance also included a handful of parking spaces and is now blocked off to vehicles and pedestrians. The county ultimately moved all offices out of the annex and mothballed the structure, leaving its fate dependent on whatever happens to the Bresee.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Larry Baughn said the county has winterized the vacant annex and the insurance is minimal, so it’s not a huge financial burden as it sits there waiting on eventual redevelopment or demolition.
“We’d love somebody to find a use for it. It all depends what happens with the tower. ... It’s going to be a huge project for either party,” Baughn said of demolishing both buildings, if it comes to that.
He said the county has not sought estimates on what it would cost to demolish the annex. Several years ago, he said, the city sought such estimates, but those are out of date now.
Williams reiterated that the city is gathering up-to-date cost estimates for demolition.
“I continue to hope for the best,” he said. “But we have to prepare if those best hopes don’t come to fruition.”