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West Bluff At Risk Of Losing Hale Memorial Church, A Neighborhood 'Crown Jewel'

Hale Memorial Church
Peoria County
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The historic Hale Memorial Church on Peoria's West Bluff is facing potential demolition.

The not-for-profit Yaku Peoria acquired the building several years ago in an effort to restore it and open a new cultural center in the old landmark. But the art collective lost possession of the building last year due to unpaid property taxes.

It was purchased at a county auction by a privately-held suburban Chicago company, North Illinois Investments LLC.

"We recently have out-of town investors who buy up several parcels, then find out later what they bought," said 2nd District Councilman Chuck Grayeb. "The fact of the matter is, this is a historic property, very significant for Peoria's history. And I'm not ready to throw in the towel, yet."

The doors are now padlocked, and caution tape recently went up around the deteriorating building at the corner of High and West Main.

"Over the last couple weeks, we have seen some of the facade crumble from the side of it onto the street," said Joe Dulin, Peoria's Assistant Community Development Director.

The current building was constructed in 1901 for $46,000. It serves as a memorial to Asahel Hale, a prominent Peoria abolitionist who in 1844 donated the lot where the first church was constructed.

The old church is a familiar beacon at the gateway to the West Bluff neighborhood from downtown.

"This is kind of like a little crown jewel at the top of Main Street hill on the West Bluff," said Grayeb, noting Hale also was pivotal in developing the nearby historic High Wine District. Grayeb lives in Asahel Hale's former house.

Today, the building is in need of significant and costly repairs. Yaku Peoria didn't return a request for comment for this story, but Grayeb said he has nothing but good things to say about the group's attempts to salvage the Memorial Church.

He said the current owner is offering one last ray of hope to save the old building, but it will require another not-for-profit to step up.

"They did make it very clear, and I think this is significant, that if we could find a not-for-profit that would restore it — not knowing the significance of the property in this community — they would gift it back," Grayeb said. "So, you know, we'll hold their feet to the fire and take them at their word."

Dulin said while the city has opened a demolition case as a precaution, that's not the preferred option.

"Hopefully, we don't get to the demolition," said Dulin. "But we do need to start a case, just in case it doesn't get to that point, and no one steps forward for the renovations and things like that and it can't be saved. And it deteriorates even worse, and creates a bigger safety condition for the neighborhood and the city."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.