The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

July 11, 2013

Bankruptcy court to leave federal courthouse

DANVILLE — The U.S. Bankruptcy Court will move out of the federal courthouse building downtown next year to go to Urbana.

What will happen with the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, 201 N. Vermilion St., remains unclear.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer already is talking to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus’ office, which is located in the federal courthouse building, and other government officials first to see whether the bankruptcy court can remain here and to discuss the building’s future.

Eisenhauer also has sent letters to U.S. Senators Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

“It’s an absolute iconic building in our community,” Eisenhauer said. “We want to make sure it has a viable purpose in the city. We’d like to see the bankruptcy court stay in Danville so it has a dedicated use.”

Eisenhauer acknowledges there are other tenants in the building, too, but without the federal connection, he’s not sure how long the U.S. General Services Administration will own and maintain the building.

Collins Fitzpatrick, an administrator for the federal courts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, said a lease is up in May for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the federal courthouse in Urbana and there is “underutilized space” in that building. The U.S. Attorney’s office could move.

Fitzpatrick said the space is sufficient to handle the approximately five deputy clerks coming from Danville and a chambers area. Courtrooms for hearings and other actions could be shared.

Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Fines in the Danville courthouse is retiring. That means judges from Peoria, Springfield and other areas would handle the cases, according to Fitzpatrick.

“By moving from Danville … and consolidating in the courthouse in Urbana, it will save the (judicial system) $100,000 a year,” Fitzpatrick said.

Other benefits of the move are better service to the public, creditors, debtors and others, he said.

Danville is on the edge of the east central Illinois area, while Urbana is more central with access to the interstates, Amtrak, buses and other transportation.

“That district includes a lot of counties,” Fitzpatrick added. “It (the Urbana location) will be easier for people to get to,” he said in regard to some of the more western counties.

Fitzpatrick said in other parts of the country, such as in Madison, Wis., where courthouse buildings are no longer being used by federal offices, the city or another entity has taken over the building. Some buildings become museums, he added.

“It’s up to other people,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Danville was constructed in 1911 and operated as a U.S. Post Office until GSA purchased the building in 1988. The facility was fully renovated in 1991. The $2.7 million renovation included reproduction of lobby lighting, the addition of a sallyport and the replacement of windows, according to the GSA’s website.

The three-story limestone and granite building in Danville received a Modernization Award in 1991 from “Buildings,” a monthly trade magazine, following the courthouse’s restoration. The building also earned its Energy Star certification in 2010.

The website also states the long-term fate of the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is still uncertain. A new $8.3 million courthouse was built in Urbana in 1993 and some of the court operations have moved there.

Danville property manager Phil Heimlich said he didn’t know the details yet on the move and what impact the bankruptcy court move will have on the other tenants and the building. Other building tenants include Social Security offices, law firms and Shimkus’ office.

In January, Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse representatives wanted to make sure on-street parking wouldn’t be lost in front of the building with the city’s median and resurfacing plans along Vermilion Street.

At the city public meeting in January on the Vermilion Street project, head of security Bob Rouse brought in a stack of schedules of cases, hearings and meetings that had been scheduled there in 2012 to today. In addition to Rouse, Judge Jerry Fines and Debby Townsley, deputy in charge of bankruptcy court, also attended the meeting.

There are Social Security disability, bankruptcy and other hearings and cases regularly scheduled at the federal building, in addition to attorney, creditor and other meetings, Rouse said. People come here from all over, including Terre Haute, Ind., and Kankakee, he added.

They are eating here, filling up their gas tanks and spending money here, Rouse said. Eliminating parking near the building would make experiences worse for people coming here, he said.

“Hundreds of people come in every month,” Fines said. There can be 40-50 hearings.

Townsley also then said the city says it’s trying to bring in business and revitalize areas, but making parking harder for people isn’t making parts of the community more inviting.

Also at that meeting, Dave Tuggle, an attorney with the firm Tuggle, Schiro and Lichtenberger, 510 N. Vermilion St., said they rent space at the federal building and they extended their lease knowing on-street parking is available.

According to the GSA’s website, the Danville Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was designed by James Knox Taylor of the U.S. Treasury Department.

The Neo-Classical Revival-style building opened to the public in 1911. The exterior wall construction is brick-faced with limestone on a granite base. The building’s public lobby was restored in 1991 and is adorned with green marble wainscot and columns, terrazzo floors, and wood-framed postal windows.

On Sept. 3, 1915, Danville’s Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled a memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Vermilion County. This cast bronze replica of Daniel Chester French’s sculpture “The Minuteman” stands atop a granite base in front of the courthouse’s west façade.

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