'Death with dignity situation:' Demolition OK'ed for historic Hale Memorial Church
The city of Peoria's Historic Preservation Commission will allow for demolition of the historic Hale Memorial Church at the corner of High Street and W. Main to proceed - but they want the developer to present a concrete plan for the green space that will remain.
Developer Kim Blickenstaff's KDB Group purchased the building about a year ago from a Utah couple bought the property in an online auction, without knowing the extent of the building's deterioration.
KDB Group president and CEO Greg Birkland said the development company originally set out with the goal of saving the historic church - but the damage is too advanced to reverse.
"This one is a heartbreaker, because we did take ownership of it, we did want to preserve it, and now we have this beautiful church that is falling in on itself," Birkland said.
City building inspections supervisor Rich Storm walked the commission through his survey of the building during a special hearing Wednesday morning.
Storm said the floor is falling through in multiple places throughout the building due to fire-damaged joists, disintegrating load-bearing points, and the shearing of an exterior brick wall.
At some points, Storm said wood has deteriorated to the point that the entrance of the building is visible from the basement. Trees are also growing through the church's roof, and leaking water is compromising the integrity of the structure's roof. Birkland said the water infiltration issues have plagued the building for around a decade, and he said it's at the point where water is also damaging the building's foundation.
"The building is in such a state of repair that there was absolutely no way I can say that we would need to keep the building as it sits," said Storm. "It does pose an extreme danger. And if someone were to get in there, there is no doubt in my mind that they would subsequently fall through that floor in any location and be very, very hurt, if not killed."
The commissioners readily accepted the arguments for demolishing the church building. But commissioners were concerned about the lack of a plan for the green space Birkland proposes for the site.
"None of us want this church to be demolished or to be in the state that it's in. I almost see this decision as being kind of like a death with dignity situation," said commissioner Marisa Gould.
"I think that's what we're all struggling with is, what's next?" said commissioner Lesley Matuszak.
Matuszak said many residents in the High Street and Moss-Bradley areas are concerned the property could fall into disrepair and become an eyesore, similarly to a now-razed community garden near the intersection of W. Main and Sheridan.
"Can we expect more from the petitioner to do more than just turn it into a rat infested field?" asked commissioner David Stotz.
Birkland said KDB Group plans to "surgically remove" the building piece-by-piece, and they're hoping to find a company willing to salvage the stonework, though that's proved challenging to date. He said the green space would optimally use some of those materials to pay homage to the church.
"We're not looking to have buildings on the site. We're not going to be selling the building. I've had multiple people reached out to me asking me to sell the property. That's not our intention," he said. "Our intention is to, if you do allow us, to take this down to make it into green space."
He proposed modeling some kind of attractive, well-maintained greenway to serve as a doorway into the High Street neighborhood.
The Historic Preservation Commission wants the KDB Group to detail its plans for the future green space in three months.