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Local Column

Olson: Clock is ticking for future of Mooney property

A former auto dealership is shown at 204 North 4th Street in DeKalb.
A former auto dealership is shown at 204 North 4th Street in DeKalb.

The legal ads in the Daily Chronicle (check them out, good stuff in there) have been advertising the Feb. 14 auction sale of what people commonly refer to as the "Mooney building" in downtown DeKalb.

The building was home to Mike Mooney's General Motors auto dealership until 2012, when Mooney sold the dealership, but not the building. It's actually three different properties, two with addresses on Oak Street and another at 204 N. Fourth St. The most use the property has seen in recent years is when the Kiwanians park cars there during Corn Fest.

Its unfortunate that the building is in foreclosure. At first I thought an auction might drum up a buyer. But it might be a signal that the clock is ticking on the property.

Local developers and bankers I've talked to lately tell me they don't expect there will be any bidders, and the property would continue to belong to Heartland Bank and Trust, which won a foreclosure judgment on the property in August 2017.

The building has been eyed for different uses in recent years, most prominently for use by Northern Illinois University as a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Center in 2017. But that didn't come to pass – construction cost was estimated at more than $11 million – and nothing else seems to have materialized, either.

The auction might not happen at all. It's very likely that the city will create a new tax increment financing district they're calling "TIF 3" in the area, which would include the Mooney property, along with the rest of downtown, and the mostly vacant land that Shodeen owns west of downtown on Lincoln Highway.

DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas tells me the city is very interested in the future of the Mooney property, but will not buy it. It's not unheard-of for local governments to buy distressed properties and then sell them to developers at essentially no cost, but Nicklas says that's not the preferred route.

The city is a bit short of money at the moment.

However, Nicklas says creation of a new downtown TIF district will be on the council's Feb. 11 agenda – three days before the auction is scheduled.

If council members approve creating the new district, DeKalb will have a new source of funds to subsidize development in the area, including possibly for the former car dealership.

The city could create a new TIF district days before the auction, then ask the bank to postpone the sale. That could benefit both parties – the bank could get a better price for the property when it eventually does sell, and the city would get a buyer with a real plan for the site, rather than someone whose only plan is to sell it later at a profit.

But they don't have unlimited time. No bank is going to keep property of that value on the books forever, and there's a limited amount of time they can write down the value.

A pause on the auction and a new TIF-subsidized plan might be the best-case scenario for making the property productive once again. We'll have to wait and see ... what develops.

Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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