When the “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” in the state are announced this spring, Bresee Tower could be on the list.
City officials are submitting the downtown high rise today as a candidate because no developer has moved forward with any plans for the building, which is sturdy structurally, but has suffered from crumbling pieces on its outside.
Neighborhood development manager John Dreher, with the city, is submitting the nomination of the building to Landmarks Illinois.
The 1918 12-story building is at 4 N. Vermilion St., adjacent to the Vermilion County Courthouse annex.
“It’s an attempt to get some focus and attention from outside the area,” Dreher said about the nomination. “It might bring in a developer.”
City officials will find out in April or May if the building will be named to the list.
According to the state historic preservation organization, Landmarks Illinois, the annual “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” list is designed to focus attention on Illinois’ historic and irreplaceable sites.
Sites may be threatened by institutions and local governments, insufficient financing or the nation’s continuing foreclosure crisis. By publicizing these sites, the organization hopes to bolster local advocacy efforts and build momentum toward each property’s eventual preservation.
Since the program’s inception in 1995, 46 sites have been saved, 38 have been demolished or substantially altered and 92 remain threatened to some degree.
Ward 7 Alderman Bill Black last month had requested that the city have Bresee Tower as an item of information on city meeting agendas to keep the building in public discussions.
No one from Downtown Danville, Inc. was present at Tuesday night’s Public Works Committee meeting to talk about Bresee Tower. Mayor Scott Eisenhauer gave aldermen copies of e-mail exchanges with DDI officials about updates on the building and what has been happening with a Bresee Committee.
The vacant building is still owned by a subsidiary of First Corbin Financial Corp. of Corbin, Ky., Land Assets of Danville. The building owner forced business tenants out and closed the building in 2005.
Debris initially fell from the building in February 2006. A protective covering was installed for pedestrians.
First Corbin has continued to try to donate the building to someone.
DDI is in the process of finalizing a third “first right of refusal” extension issuance.
“It’s in the final legal approvals …,” Dreher said.
Dreher, vice president of DDI’s board and a county board member, also serves on the Bresee Committee with other Vermilion Advantage, DDI and city representatives.
“We’re confident that we’re going to have this additional period of time,” Dreher said.
DDI has renewed this agreement at least twice during the past four years, according to an e-mail from Bresee Committee member Carol Nichols.
Dreher explained that DDI can put up a resistance to the building owners passing ownership to a not-for-profit or someone without financial assets to help with the building’s future.
He said it’d be “where the building is just doomed.”
An example of a similar building experience is Lincoln School, at Chandler and Williams streets.
“It ended up in the hands of a charity not-for-profit and it’s now doomed,” Dreher said. “We don’t want to have that happen.”
Danville District 118 sold the former school building to a person in 2004. A Bible college never materialized.
Eisenhauer said preliminary cost estimates are $2.5 million to demolish the building if that day would ever come.
“The interior is in good shape,” Eisenhauer said. “We certainly want to preserve it.”
He said the question could come as to how much more the city is willing to help put into the building to avoid demolition.
Officials with First Corbin subsidiary Land Assets of Danville have claimed there is no money to fix the building.
The city and county each paid $16,745 in 2007 for an exterior terra cotta assessment of the building. Land Assets of Danville was to pay the other half of the cost, $33,490.
The city also paid $10,000 for a market study and other services out of Public Development Department long-range planning funds.
Assessments showed the building’s cracking and broken pieces are caused by water that’s entered the building and has rusted the steel behind the terra cotta. The steel expands and creates the pressure causing the terra cotta cracks. Routine caulking and tuck pointing normally addresses this problem in buildings, but neglect of several years causes the cracks.
Some restoration work followed in 2007.
Dreher said the best estimate is $1 million to $1.5 million to get “the outside in a condition for another 75 years.”
“That’s really not a horrible amount of money,” he said about putting a 75-year, low-maintenance surface back on the approximately 30,000-square-feet building.
The deterioration of terra cotta, which can last 70 to 100 years, is happening to buildings in every city, he said.
There was a developer with a team from Mt. Vernon interested in the building, with a plan on the table. But when the economy started to sour in the summer of 2008, the developer wasn’t able to proceed.
A market study performed on the building showed the building could support mixed residential, professional and retail uses.
Bresee Committee members also have explored public uses for the building by various government entities, and had met with Danville District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman regarding the possibility of using part of the building for administrative offices.
The Bresee Committee also is making a brochure to be used in marketing the building.
The committee, which had been on hold, has been meeting for about two years. It will meet again this month or February. Black also is joining the committee.
Dreher said the county, city, DDI and Vermilion Advantage are working together “to protect and defend the building.”
Dreher goes through the building once a month. No major problems have arisen in the last three to four years.
“Really, in terms of the age of the building, it is a remarkably stable building,” he said.
Come spring, Dreher said some volunteers may be recruited to perform a little housekeeping, such as cleaning windows, dusting and vacuuming.
A plaque on the outside of Bresee Tower reads “Abraham Lincoln occupied offices in a building on this site while practicing law in the Eighth Judicial District from 1847 to 1859.”
The First National Bank Building, as it was initially called, had the bank housed on the first floor with offices above.
The building’s name changed when the bank moved next door and brothers Paul and H.R. Bresee of Champaign-Urbana bought the building in 1963. Paul Bresee put WIAI radio station on the air in 1970 as a contemporary country station and was its chief officer until his death in the 1990s.
For the next 12 years, the building was owned by Key Broadcasting — a management company under the holding company of First Corbin Financial. WIAI 99.1 FM also was part of Key Broadcasting’s $1.3 million purchase in 1993. The station moved out of the building to go to Champaign-Urbana.
In April 2005, First Corbin decided it would discontinue rental of the building effective June 1 and forced the eight remaining tenants to leave.
Utility expenses to keep the building open were costly, First Corbin said.
The corporation has tried to donate the building to the city, county, local colleges and civic organizations, which could receive rehabilitation grants.
The corporation has continued to supply electricity for the antennas on the roof for cell phone and television services until someone else takes over the building.