DeKALB – City and DeKalb Park District officials announced a plan Wednesday to move city workers out of the 50-year-old DeKalb Municipal Building and into a historic downtown building, a move they said will be cost-effective and customer friendly.
The move would also leave three local civic organizations, including the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, in search of a new space by the end of the year.
City Manager Bill Nicklas said Wednesday that the time is right for a move from the current location at 200 S. Fourth St. to the Nehring building at 164 E. Lincoln Highway, across North Second Street from Eduardo’s Restaurant. The Nehring building is owned by the DeKalb Park District, which has agreed to transfer ownership to the city.
City Council members are expected to vote on the plan Tuesday at their regular council meeting.
“The opportunity is here now,” Nicklas said. “The city has been looking for some years for another location, because we know our building is approaching the need for serious rehabbing. If we were to do that, we could drop a million dollars, and we’re looking at a fraction of the cost compared to that and no upfront cost.”
If the council approves the plan, the city would seek to sell the 24,000-square-foot municipal building, which was completed in 1967, as well as the 13,400-square-foot property across the street at 223 S. Fourth St. In total,
2.5 acres of city-owned property would be placed on the market, Nicklas said.
The city could use any revenue from a sale to do minor renovations to the new space to accommodate city needs, Nicklas said. Most of the Nehring building is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Nicklas said, although the bathrooms need upgrades to be accessible.
A 2013 building assessment for the municipal building identified a number of issues with the space, including the roof system, heating and air-conditioning systems, exterior precast walls, windows and doors, Nicklas said. The bathrooms are also not ADA-compliant. The DeKalb Police Department moved out of the space in 2013. The municipal building houses 30 employees now, when it was meant to accommodate three times that many, Nicklas said.
The Park District now rents space in the Nehring building to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association. Representatives of all three have been notified of the plan and told they would have until Dec. 31 to vacate.
Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb chamber, said his board of directors is beginning to discuss where they could go next.
“There’s different vacancies throughout the area, and the wheels are always turning,” Duffy said. “We don’t have that unique need, we’re not a restaurant and we don’t have certain requirements that other businesses might need, which makes it fairly easy for us to move.”
Duffy said he found out about the city’s plan last week, and is pleased to see the city plans to keep the historic look of the building, especially the open bank lobby.
“The changes in downtown DeKalb are exciting to see,” Duffy said. “New development, businesses, building improvements; the dominoes are falling in the right direction. One business makes the change and the other says ‘I should do the same.’ ”
Brad Hoey, chairman of the board for the visitors bureau, said the board already was looking to move because their lease expires in June. He said the bureau wants a more high-profile location, and could even move to the Northern Illinois University campus for better exposure than its second-floor office in the Nehring building.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Hoey said. “We’re looking for new leadership, and with the timing of this, there’s a lot of positive synergies, and an exciting opportunity for the city. This gives us a chance to explore some possibilities and usher in a new era for the CVB.”
Nicklas said he and Amy Doll, executive director of the Park District, began discussions of conveying ownership of the property from the Park District to the city in February.
Doll said although the district was happy to contribute to preserving the historic building, which was built in 1891, being landlords doesn’t fit with the Park District’s mission.
“It seemed like such a great fit for what could be really great for DeKalb, because the building remains in the hands of the public,” Doll said.
Nicklas said moving city government downtown is instrumental to expanding downtown foot traffic and supporting business growth.
“This is an opportunity to make an economical move,” Nicklas said. “The most important thing is we would land downtown where we can engage in commerce, culture and the life of the downtown, which is growing. And to make a statement about our support of the development that’s happening, and a commitment to the small business owners downtown.”
After the move, City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings would be held in the Yasunas meeting room in the basement of the DeKalb Public Library. The library is ADA compliant and has two elevators, as well as Oak Street and surrounding lots for parking.
“It would seat as many or more than what we have now in the council chambers,” Nicklas said. “Municipal buildings tend to dedicate a large space like council chambers that’s used maybe three nights a month. That’s a lot of real estate.”