LACON — Interested in a “fabulous development/investment opportunity” in the seat of Marshall County?
Then an online auction is the place to be next week as Web-based bidding begins in the latest chapter of a more than 20-year saga of efforts to redevelop storied riverfront property that was the site of a large woolen mill for decades and later went through a lengthy and costly cleanup of chemical contamination.
“It will be interesting to see what comes of that. I hope they can find a way that it will work,” said Bob Weber, a former longtime Lacon mayor and alderman who spearheaded the mostly grant-funded environmental cleanup process that spanned more than a decade.
“I’m more hopeful than optimistic (about results of the upcoming auction),” added Weber, who left office in 2013. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Up for bids will be a total of about five acres containing several potential home sites, commercial property, and a two-story brick manufacturing/warehouse building that survives from the Grieves Woolen Mill that was a major local employer for many years.
“This is the kind of development that could leave a legacy,” said auctioneer Rick Levin, whose Chicago firm, Rick Levin & Associates Inc., is handling the online bidding.
The city acquired the property in a controversial development deal in 1994 and then spent some $1.3 million in mostly federal and state grant funds to remediate residual contamination from chemical dyes.
“It was a long process, a lot of information, and probably a ton of paper (documents),” Weber said. “And I don’t think I’m exaggerating. We had a truckload of paper.”
The land was then transferred to Illinois River Development Group LLC for a dollar in 2005, partly in hopes that the uniqueness of the site would spark support in that Peoria firm’s plan for upscale condominiums.
“They’re not manufacturing any more riverfront,” an alderman said at that time.
But after completing and selling only one unit while accumulating $800,000 in debt, the original developer abandoned efforts on the site. The city has courted several others through such means as tax increment financing plans, but none have made major progress.
Gary L. Smith