DANVILLE — With casino expansion legislation brewing in Springfield, the owners of the newly named Collins Tower are now considering working a casino into their plans to redevelop Danville's tallest building into a hotel.
Chris and Jeri Collins are still set on turning the former Bresee Tower — a 13-story, century-old vacant office building in downtown Danville — into a 1920s-period hotel, but in the last three weeks, they and their investors have been tossing around the idea of incorporating a casino into their overall plan, which also includes redeveloping the former Vermilion County Courthouse Annex next door.
The Collinses summarized their development plans to members of the Vermilion County Board's property committee Monday night, answering questions about their overall plans, financing and more. In addition to a 20- to 40-room hotel in the tower, they want to develop a large area around the tower into amenities that would draw people to the hotel, including a casino, an auditorium for shows, an indoor amusement park, shops, restaurants and a speakeasy, in keeping with the hotel's 1920s-era theme.
"Right now, nobody wants to come to Danville for the most part. We want a reason for people to come here," said Chris Collins, a Danville native who recently returned to the area and bought the former Bresee Tower in June.
County board property committee members are interested in the development plans because the Collinses want to acquire the former annex building, which literally wraps around the base of Collins Tower at the corner of Main and Vermilion streets, from the county.
The Collinses said they also envision acquiring the vacant lot north of the annex, the city's nearby parking garage on Walnut Street and the First National Bank property, also on Walnut Street, and possibly the Danville City Hall building immediately west of the tower. Jeri Collins said that although their plan is not dependent on acquiring City Hall, it would be preferable.
But another property is a must.
"One thing we do need to make it happen is the annex," Jeri Collins told the property committee, which discussed the issue Monday night but did not take any action.
Earlier this year, the county finished moving several offices — clerk, recorder, treasurer and others — out of the courthouse annex to the newly renovated and larger Vermilion County Administration building, formerly a federal building that was mostly vacant. The county's next step is disposing of the former annex.
County board member Wes Bieritz, who is chairman of the property committee, said the county needs information about its ability to finance the project. Board Chairman Larry Baughn said the county's concern is that this scenario doesn't lead to Danville ending up with another vacant building causing issues because development plans fell through.
Chris Collins said the entire development could cost as much as $65 million to $70 million, and they have investors willing to contribute significantly. He said the plans would be eligible for federal, historic and economic development tax credits that could help fund about 65 percent of the project. He said he and his wife have not been given permission to reveal their investors but mentioned that one particularly likes the idea of adding a casino to the mix.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer has lobbied the state Legislature for years to approve gambling expansion in Illinois that would include a casino license for Danville. And this summer, state legislators again started tossing around a possible expansion to boost state revenue. In August, a bill that would add six new casinos in Illinois was discussed at a joint hearing of House and Senate committees.
"If that happens, that changes everything," Chris Collins said the casino license. He said even if the Collinses can't get one, they would still like to incorporate table games into their business plan.
They already have an investor committed to funding the tower renovations, he said, which would run about $600,000 to $750,000 for rehabilitating the terra cotta facade and another $5 million for interior renovations.
Danville officials have pressed the Collinses to submit a plan for improvements to the facade, which has created liability issues for the city as small pieces have fallen onto the sidewalks around the tower.
Eisenhauer said the Collinses submitted their exterior renovation plan late last week to city engineer David Schnelle. The city could accept the plan or ask for changes, and if it is accepted, the Collinses have about 45 days to take action regarding falling debris.
Chris Collins said full repair of the terra cotta cannot begin until spring, which is their plan, but in the meantime, they would affix netting or another type of structure to the tower to catch any falling debris.
Collins said they have another investor who wants to fund renovations of the courthouse annex — which would include tearing away the existing facade to reveal the original brick building and windows — but that person doesn't want to commit until they own the property.
Chris Collins said that creates a catch-22 because the county wants proof of their financing before considering selling the annex.
Property committee members didn't talk about whether to sell the annex, instead wrapping up their discussion with information from the maintenance department and insurance provider about the costs to continue insuring and heating the building while it sits empty. The maintenance crew reported that they are on track to have all county property out of the annex by Oct. 1.
Bieritz said the county's main concern is what happens with that building once everything is out and it must be declared as surplus space.
"That has a lot to do with the building next door," he said, referring to Collins Tower.