By Bob Balgemann


MACHESNEY PARK – Now is the time for residents who have an opinion on the village proposal to buy the vacant J.C. Penney building on North Second Street to be heard. Village board members voted 5-2 Jan. 5 to approve a resolution calling for purchase of that building for $900,000. There is a 45-day due diligence period, ending Feb, 19, during which an appraisal and other information will be gathered. That also is the time when residents may weigh in on the acquisition by calling the mayor’s office, 815-877-5432, or their individual trustee.

Trustees James Kidd and Aaron Wilson voted against buying the building.

Before the vote Village Administrator Tim Savage offered background on the proposal, including the reason why so many closed-door meetings were held. That was done, he said, “in order to negotiate a fair price…”

Mayor Jerry Bolin called the executive sessions, which were allowed by state statutes for land acquisition, an “absolute necessity. Government is at an extreme disadvantage when negotiating a real estate purchase in public.”

While the public was not made aware of the proposal until Jan. 5, he said there would be plenty of time for them in the coming days to offer their comments.

Savage said planned uses for the property are based on “a continuation of the success we have seen with previous redevelopment initiatives, and as laid out in the (Machesney) Towne Center Master Plan. These redevelopment successes include the renovation of the 110,000 square feet of retail space that (now) houses Big Lots and Burlington Coat (Factory), as well as the $7-million investment and renovation by Practice Velocity of the former Kohl’s building that retained or created over 250 jobs.”

Plans for the Penney’s building renovation, through private partnerships, call for the front half, or about 40,000 square feet, to provide in-line retail space. Portions of the rear would be utilized for office space.

Space in the Penney’s building once used for auto repair would house village public works employees, at a cost of about $10,000.

“Our in-house estimates for construction of a 7,000-square-foot building north of village hall were coming in at nearly $600,000, with engineer’s estimat4e coming in at over $900, 000,” Savage said.

He said the village offer of $900,000 for the building, which includes 11.2 acres of land, is “well under” the asking price of $1.2 million.

In addition to the aforementioned uses, he said there is an opportunity to market a four-acre parcel for multi-family residential development. That is in keeping with the Towne Center Master Plan.

Most of the funding for the purchase will come from the tax increment financing (TIF) district that includes the North Second Street corridor, from Illinois 173 south to Harlem Road.

“Only that portion of the building used for public purposes, for example the public works garage, will be paid for by the general fund,” Savage said.

Trustee responses

In follow-up interviews, trustees Kidd and Wilson discussed their reasons for voting against the purchase.

Kidd said his primary concern was not informing the public before the Jan. 5 meeting. That could have been done, he said, without compromising the acquisition process and costing the village more money.

Beyond that, he said information about the village buying the Penney’s building was leaked to the media before the meeting. He said he got phone calls from newspaper and television reporters, in advance of the meeting, asking specifically about the Penny’s purchase, when that information was not specified on the agenda.

He also said he wondered why “we think we’re better than private business when it comes to bringing in businesses? I have yet to see a plan to do that; so far all I’ve heard is words.

Wilson said he hoped that in a year of two he would be able to say he was wrong in voting against purchase of the building. But as it stands right now, he said it could not support the proposal.

“I have a tough time spending almost $1 million,” he said. “It just feels that we’re getting into the real estate businesses.”

He added, “If this is such a great deal, why aren’t others jumping at it?”

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