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Developer, nonprofit vying for long-vacant DeKalb property

DeKALB – For 25 years, the former St. Mary’s Hospital building at 145 Fisk Ave. has sat vacant after plans to convert the building into luxury condos over the years have fallen through.

Now, the building is experiencing renewed interest, both from a developer eyeing a remodel of the building into a boutique hotel and a longstanding local nonprofit hoping to expand its domestic abuse support services.

During Monday’s DeKalb City Council meeting, developer Nicholas Cronauer presented a plan to renovate and rehabilitate the property at an estimated cost of $6.25 million and convert it into a boutique hotel with commercial amenities. The property is currently under contract with the developer but contingent on the acquisition of $2 million in tax increment financing dollars from the city.

Representatives from Safe Passage, however, were also at the meeting to express their interest in the building over the past few years and to say they were in a position to buy the property without the use of TIF funding.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he is delighted to have this conversation on how to use a building that has been an eyesore to the community.

“What I see here is an opportunity for some dialogue,” Smith said. “We have a long-standing credible nonprofit in our community doing a great job, and
I know while we’re not competing, we also have a concept plan tonight, where we’re not going to make a decision, with a party that could inject new economic life into 145 Fisk Ave.”

Cronauer proposal

Ward 1 Alderman David Jacobson said there have been very few TIF-incentivized projects in his time with the council that have checked as many boxes of TIF eligibility as Cronauer’s proposal, such as restoring a vacant and blighted property, creating a strong economic engine and establishing a major job creator in the community.

“In most cases, I would be skeptical of a project like that, at least on paper if it was presented to me without the backup that we’ve seen,” Jacobson said. “It’s a reasonable ask as far as I’m concerned for project costs.”

DeKalb Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick said that although a large amount of interior demolition has rendered the building almost fully gutted, the overall structural integrity of the building is sound.

“Despite its age, it does have good bones and is a shell that can easily be converted into this concept,” Michnick said.

A final room count for the hotel will not be known until final architectural plans are drawn, but the preliminary presentation assumed 40 rooms. It also is assumed that commercial space would be available for an entertainment or restaurant concept, flexible workspace, offices that could be leased and outdoor dining and event spaces.

Cronauer also wishes to use the rooftop as an outdoor lounge and build greenhouses, which Micnick said would require structural improvements.

Included in the concept plan were letters of intent from various businesses expressing interest in operating out of the building, including a restaurant and craft distillery, an advertising firm, an interior designer and an industrial wares dealer.

So long as the council reaches consensus to support the project and TIF incentive, city staff would work with the developer to establish a streamlined process for council approval, which would require a rezoning request.

Safe Passage proposal

Eva Rey, Safe Passage board president, said during Monday’s meeting that the domestic violence shelter has to turn away between 10 and 15 potential clients most months because their facilities are at capacity.

The need for a new facility has existed for years, Rey said, but now
that the domestic violence shelter has been offered a donation to buy the
St. Mary’s Hospital building, officials are hoping they will be able to move into a location with plenty of room for expansion.

Executive Director Mary Ellen Schaid said Safe Passage has been eyeing the Fisk Avenue property since 2015, but priorities shifted after a state budget impasse left the organization in survival mode.

Although council members offered assistance in finding an alternate location should Cronauer’s request be approved, Schaid said the building is the best possible location because of its proximity to public transportation and local jobs.

“We have looked at numerous properties and numerous buildings and none of them will meet our needs the way
this one does, so I appreciate you saying that you’re going to help us find a building, but we’ve been looking and we’ve been scouring the community,” Schaid said.

TIF funds may not be required
for buying the building, but Jacobson said that he was skeptical that the
nonprofit’s fundraising efforts would adequately cover potentially millions
of dollars in remodeling costs, especially when competing with the likes of the DeKalb Public Library, Hope Haven, Northern Illinois University and other organizations.

Several council members said that just because Cronauer’s project was being discussed, they were not discounting Safe Passage’s proposal.

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