DANVILLE – An initial demolition quote came in less expensive than under some past estimates to tear down Bresee Tower and the adjacent Vermilion County Courthouse annex.
Danville Public Works Director Carl Carpenter said the quote came in at $1.35 million. Carpenter said the cost also includes the disposal of the Courthouse Annex.
“This is not to be misunderstood as a bid. It is a quote only to give council an idea of costs associated with demolition,” according to Carpenter. “This is a tool for the council to use as a discussion point on the building’s future.”
Carpenter wouldn’t name the demolition company that gave the quote, saying it would be unfair to it. City officials have previously said they were seeking demolition cost estimates from Chicago suburb companies.
City officials also don’t have the next steps lined up yet, according to Mayor Rickey Williams Jr.
Williams said he needs to talk more with Carpenter, city engineer Sam Cole and Corporation Counsel Chuck Mockbee IV to recommend what comes next.
Williams also says he has no idea about funding for the demolition.
In July 2019, a non-scientific Commercial-News poll showed most people favored the 1918 12-story historic building’s demolition due to it being a safety hazard and no one moving forward with its renovation.
The poll question was “City officials have given owners of Collins Tower, formerly Bresee Tower, a deadline to fix structural issues on the building. If the deadline is missed, should the city proceed with an effort to demolish the building? Those responding “yes” were 188; 46 said no.
A Main Street lane closure has occurred since June 30, 2019, when debris fell onto Main Street from the tower at 4 N. Vermilion St.
At that time Jeri Collins, who with her husband, Chris, was buying the building on contract from Scottie Porter, according to Williams, wouldn’t give an update on the building.
Williams said he doesn’t know the full terms of the agreement, but said Porter retains the rights to the top floor and antenna on top and antenna income until the Collins pay Porter the full amount.
Before the additional debris fell last summer, Williams said the Collinses had until the end of July 2019 to fulfill their promises regarding the building or the city would proceed in court.
“I asked them to secure the building to ensure the safety of the public …,” Williams said last summer. Williams said he met with the Collinses in November 2018 and they “promised to get the cornice removed.”
“They knew it was a problem and still hadn’t gotten it removed,” Williams said, adding that safety netting also wasn’t put up.
“My goal is always to keep people safe,” he added.
The city had a structural engineer assess the building last summer and until a netting-type system to catch falling debris from Bresee Tower is erected, the structural engineer recommended westbound Main Street lanes south of the tower remain closed to vehicles and the sidewalk remain closed to pedestrians.
“It is considered a dangerous structure by the structural engineer,” Carpenter told aldermen last summer.
According to a report from John Zeman, a licensed structural engineer with the Farnsworth Group of Champaign, “it is my understanding that during a storm event on the afternoon of June 30, 2019, pieces of the terracotta façade on the south side of Collins Tower fell to the street. Of the pieces which fell, most of them appeared to come from a cornice/ledge located above the second floor windows. The largest pieces – whole blocks, each weighing approximately 100 pounds – were caught by temporary scaffolding and a canopy structure.
“Many pieces as large as a softball fell to the sidewalk. Some pieces the size of small rocks – approximately two to three inches in diameter – ended up in the two westbound driving lanes of Main Street/U.S. Route 136 and diverted traffic to the remaining three lanes.
“On the afternoon of July 1, 2019, I conducted a visual inspection of the terracotta façade with the aid of a bucket truck with a 70-foot-long boom, provided by the city. I primarily viewed the south side of the building, but also the south ends of the west and east sides. At the locations where pieces of the façade separated from the building, I could see evidence of mortar failure, corrosion of metal anchors and fracturing of terracotta blocks. At multiple locations throughout the rest of the façade which was accessible to me, I observed small cracks that indicated failure of the terracotta glaze (known as ‘crazing’), cracks through the terracotta and spalling of the terracotta. Many locations on the façade have metal straps and plywood sheets intended to secure pieces of the terracotta which are deteriorating.
“It is our opinion that much of the remaining terracotta façade is at risk of separating from the building and falling to the ground, thereby posing an imminent hazard to pedestrians and motorists near the south and east sides of Collins Tower.”
According to Carpenter, the Collinses had a firm from Indiana secure an area on the building.
Carpenter and Williams said they further asked the Collinses for immediate plans and action to secure the entire building.
The city also last year used a drone to complete an aerial assessment of the tower.
It was June 2018 when the Collinses reportedly took over ownership of the building from Scottie Porter and Historic Restorations, Inc., and Land Company of Danville. Historic Restorations, Inc. is a non-profit organization in Fayette, Ala.
In October 2017, the company was given the building from Forcht Group of Kentucky, which formerly was named First Corbin Financial Corp. Bresee was placed under ownership of the Forcht subsidiary, Land Company of Danville.
The city filed a lawsuit against Land Company of Danville when city officials heard it transferred the building and would no longer be willing to work with the city to solve the imminent danger of failing debris from the building’s exterior. In the lawsuit, the city asked for the building to be demolished within 30 days or restored within 60 days or the building be turned over to the city.
Then Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said about the Collinses in June 2018, “Our message to the new owner first and foremost is steps need to be taken to secure the exterior of the building to make sure the public is not at risk of falling debris. Once that step has been taken we look forward to working with them.”
According to a previous city code violation report to Land Company of Danville, “This building has been deemed an unsafe structure. Minimum corrective action required: to protect the health and welfare of the public, submit for approval a debris collection system that will prevent facade debris from falling onto the public right of way on or before Aug. 10, 2017 to the Urban Services Director per the attached letter. Install the approved debris collection system within seven days of city approval. Submit a facade removal or repair plan for approval to the Urban Services Director per the attached letter on or before Sept. 15, 2017. Complete approved facade removal or repair plan within six months of city approval. Because the damaged areas are accessible to and threaten the health and safety of the public, and the cost of repairs likely exceeds the value of the building, demolition of the structure is recommended.”
Bresee Tower in 2012 was listed on Landmarks Illinois’ statewide “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” in Illinois list.
A market study performed on Bresee Tower years ago showed the building could support mixed residential, professional and retail uses.
The building has suffered from deterioration on its outside. Estimates have been at $1 million to $1.5 million just to renovate the outside terra cotta.
Vacant since 2006, Bresee was then owned by Land Co. of Danville, a subsidiary of Kentucky-based First Corbin Financial Corp., which said it was unable to finance a renovation. It forced business tenants out and closed the building in 2005. The company was willing to “gift” the building to a non-profit.
The corporation tried to donate the building to the city, county, local colleges and civic organizations, which could receive rehabilitation grants.
Debris initially fell from the building in February 2006. A protective covering was installed for pedestrians.