Q&A: Bartonville mayor Ricca offers update on village’s attempts to get Allied Mills site addressed
The mayor of Bartonville still wants to see something done with the dilapidated former Allied Mills building along U.S. Route 24.
Mayor Leon Ricca has said getting the abandoned century-old tower demolished has always been one of his top priorities.
He says it would take at least $1.5 million to tear down the building, and former U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos was trying to secure federal funding before she left office.
A firm owned by Lord Mic Williams purchased the site more than two years ago, and last September announced plans to develop the area as “The SouthGate Project.” But it doesn't appear any progress has been made on that development.
Lord Mic did not respond to multiple attempts by WCBU requesting comments on the condition of the Allied Mills property.
WCBU reporter Joe Deacon talks with Ricca about what actions the village is taking to address hazards at the site. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
What steps are being taken to get the Allied Mills property addressed?
Mayor Leon Ricca: We gave them several warnings to get the grass cut and board the building up so it was safe, and that has not happened. So he is being assessed fines everyday right now.
These are daily fines?
Ricca: Daily fines. After a certain amount of time it’s daily fines.
Do you know how much these fines are, or how quickly they add up?
Ricca: They add up pretty quick because, I think it's $250-$500 a day – up to $500. I don't know what happens if you end up going to court on it; it may end up being negotiated. But we'll see what happens
Has the village spoken to the owner at all about the condition of the property?
Ricca: The only thing we've had is some email correspondence, I believe, with his attorney, and they have not really responded to us as far as boarding anything up or making the building safe. And they don't have to board it up if they would put a six-foot fence around it or something like that so kids couldn't get in there. That’d be fine with us too.
So they haven't provided any updates on possible development plans?
Ricca: Nothing. Nothing at all. And I'm not sure really – it was, I think, the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce owned it at one point, and then the Peoria Black Chamber. I'm not real sure who owns it now, because one person tells us one thing and another person tells another when we talk to somebody on the phone. So we're trying to find out who actually is the rightful owner of the property because that’s who is going to get assessed the fines. What we'd love to do is, just like with the Harrison School and McKinley School (in Peoria) – you know, we had that grant ready to go and we could have had it torn down for him. But they wouldn't turn it over to have that happen.
When did these ordinance violations start being assessed?
Ricca: From the original date we posted, I think they had two weeks. Then we found another certified letter and email, so it's probably been going on for three to five weeks now.
If you don't receive payment on these fines, what course of action can the village take?
Ricca: There's a couple of different avenues, and I don’t want to – I'm not sure which avenue we’d take. If they don't pay them – and I think they’ve paid the taxes now. We can actually go in and take the property as an unsafe, dangerous building. But I wouldn't do that until I know that I can get the money from the federal government, like the McKinley or Harrison school type money, to tear it down.
The problem is, when that money becomes available, you have to act fast. I can't say enough about Congresswoman Bustos when she was in office; she got the money and said, “if you're can have it, if you can get it by this date, we can have it done.” Had they turned it over to us, we would’ve had it down by now – because if you look, Harrison and McKinley are both gone; it’s flat ground.
If I understand you correctly, did you say the village could potentially seize the property?
Ricca: I'm not sure; I think it depends on – I think we could if we really wanted to get tough. They would fight that, I'm sure. When you have a dangerous building, just like the city when they have a fire: They go in and say, “OK, it’s too dangerous to leave it stand. We’ll have to do an emergency demolition.” We can't do an emergency demolition, because that (Allied Mills building) takes a lot of planning to tear something like that down, being that close to the highway. We would have to have all kinds of approval and we’d have to have the state grant or the federal grant to do it - because we don't have an extra million-and-a-half in our pocket to do it.
So at this point, the next steps are just to continue the daily ordinance violation fines then?
Ricca: That’s correct. Eventually will get in court on them; we will get to court eventually but that's up to the attorneys when we do that and hopefully we’ll get them all moving. But it's a dangerous building because it's wide open; it's not boarded up on the first floor. There's also a big pit back there that’s 20-30 feet deep that’s full of water. So there’s some dangerous parts there; it’s a big, big building and it’s dangerous. If kids got in there and fell, we’d never find them.