Bartonville wants an abandoned tower demolished, while the owner is planning a major ‘rejuvenation’
It's hard to miss the dilapidated former Allied Mills building that towers over U.S. Route 24 on the southern end of Bartonville.
Village leaders would like to see the abandoned pet food plant torn down. But the property owner says his group plans to develop the site, and demolition may not be in their best interests.
“We'll be doing pretty much a full rejuvenation of the entire footprint, and we want to bring in some different layers of commerce and culture and economic drivers,” said Lord Mic Williams, whose firm Lord Mic Industries purchased the property about 18 months ago.
Built in 1920, the Allied Mills pet food plant once was one of the largest grain milling facilities in the world. The last business operating in the building closed in 1988, and a fire heavily damaged the 11-story structure in 2015.
Bartonville Mayor Leon Ricca said having the building demolished is something he's wanted since he first took office.
“I've got several constituents (who) told me, ‘Get that building down,’” said Ricca. “We're trying; we've worked at it, but we don't have $1.5-$2 million sitting around town and we don't own it. So hopefully that something will happen here in the future.”
Ricca said the village issued several citations in the past to previous owners, and the property was eventually sold for tax delinquencies. He said Bartonville had started on a path toward a federal grant to pay for demolition, with help from U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.
“She basically put out a call for jobs that needed done, and I saw that two of the jobs that they had approved on demolition were the old Harrison school in Peoria and there was another school in Peoria (McKinley),” he said.
“I thought boy, that's a perfect situation for our Allied Mills building. So we contacted her; I think myself or my engineer contacted her. She knew the building because she drives into Bartonville on a regular basis. She was so helpful and her office was absolutely wonderful to work with. But the property had to be transferred into the village’s name for us to get that grant.”
An aide with Bustos’ office confirmed Bartonville was being considered for a grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Economic Development Initiative. But the process stalled when Bartonville was unable to acquire the property.
Lord Mic, the marketing and communications director for the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, said his group didn’t see any benefit in transferring the property to the village.
“From a business perspective, there wasn't really any value added to my company, or to our organization, or even to the bigger model of what we're trying to push in terms of community development, and they were really focused on that at the time,” he said. “So I haven't revisited with them to see where they're at now, or what they're ambitions would be towards it. I’ve just been moving along with my team, with the model that we've kind of set forth with it.”
Lord Mic said his group is currently undecided about whether or not to tear the existing building down.
“That's not part of original intent,” he said. “From the bigger picture of where we're trying to go with it, if it makes sense in as far as a rebuild or whatever a future development will be on that site, we're not totally opposed to a full demolition and a full new build of an entire new facility that would really suit the needs of what we kind of put forth. But our original intent is just to rejuvenate the property and rejuvenate the actual facility on there.”
In a statement dated Sept. 1, Lord Mic Industries said it has christened the Allied Mills site as “The SouthGate Project.” The statement said specifics of the plan aren’t yet available, but the development is imminent.
“We're in the phase of really connecting partners, our strategic community partners, our strategic corporate and municipal partners and all that stuff. So I can't go too deep into detail on what the plan is there,” said Lord Mic, who added they are looking to develop several properties along the Route 24 corridor.
“But I could certainly tell you that it's a very significant commercial operation, is what it would be. It would be a multi-use; it wouldn't just be one single thing because we've got a pretty big facility there. And it wouldn't just be with that facility; there would be other developments on the footprint itself.”
Lord Mic says he wasn't consulted about Bartonville's bid for federal money until the process was already underway.
“We have only had really one formal engagement with the village in regard to the property and with that whole grant situation that they were trying to connect with,” he said. “But I was only tagged into it really, really late in the process – and when I say late, I'm talking probably the very literal last play of the fourth quarter of whatever they had put together.
“So I wasn't really appraised of a lot of the preliminary details and kind of how the make-up was. Ultimately, at the juncture that we connected with it, it just didn't make good business sense to essentially donate the property to the village. That's kind of more or less what they were looking for there, and that just doesn't really fit the model that we're pushing for that property.”
Ricca said the building is a safety hazard in its current condition.
“We're getting a lot of complaints because the building’s open. We get kids that want to go into that building and it's a danger,” he said. “So we're going to have to come to some resolution with the property owner very shortly here.”
Lord Mic said he hasn’t looked into how much demolition would cost, but he said the village’s estimate of $2 million doesn’t seem too far off. He admitted it would cost quite a bit more to renovate the building.
“A full rejuvenation, we're talking significantly more than that, obviously because we aren’t just tearing it down,” he said. “But to move in the direction that we're moving – we have quite a significant project that we're undertaking there on both sides of the corridor, the north and the south side. So totally, we're looking at about $30 million for the entire rejuvenation.”
Lord Mic said while his group is still seeking funding support and finalizing plans, they optimistically hope to be able to break ground on the SouthGate project next spring.
Meanwhile, Ricca said the village is considering the next steps they can take to make sure the building is no longer a community hazard.
“I think we'll speak to the property owner and see what he has in store so that we know that he's got some sort of plan,” said Ricca. “That's all we want, is some sort of plan, because the previous property owner we had taken to court.
“We had stopped the fines during the process; we weren't assessing that so much per-day fine, because he kept telling us that he would get this done, this done, and this done. Well, he never really did that, so here we are holding the bag now a couple of years later.”