Drives Building stays in public eye

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldThe future of the Drives Building in Fulton is up in the air as city officials are at odds over what should be done with it.

FULTON, Ill — The Drives Building’s future is a question of purpose on one side and ownership on the other.

The Drives Building Committee wants to see the riverfront’s icons — the nearby de Immigrant windmill and Windmill Cultural Center — remain in the hands of the city. The committee would handle Phase 1 of a three-phase plan to renovate the Drives Building and has requested to use $120,000 from the sale of the Robert Fulton Community Center, which is located on Fourth Street and formerly had housed the fire station.

However, Fulton Mayor Mike Ottens does not see it that way. The taxpayer, in his opinion, shouldn’t have to pay city services for a portion of an estimated 19,000-square-foot space.

“We’re asking the taxpayer to subsidize or underwrite a project of maybe 4,000 square feet that is actually of concern to the taxpayer… the math, in my head, doesn’t work,” Ottens said.

The Fidelity/Drives Building has been a controversial point since soon after the city inherited the building from Drives LLC in 2010. A committee worked diligently to round up public opinions, and a developer’s interest was presented to the council in 2014, but the plan failed. Now, the city’s Drives Building Committee is seeking a public-private partnership with the city of Fulton to fill the empty city-owned space.

The committee has come to the current council with ideas of potential action for the Drives Building donation. Barb Mask, on behalf of the committee, proposed a 3-year agreement between the Drives Building committee and the city that is structured similar to the Martin House Museum.

In the agreement, two years would be set aside for phase 1 restoration and renovations – the committee has raised $350,000 in pledges toward these fixes — and one revenue-generating year.

There is a total of three phases listed by the committee with the hope to implement RFCC activities in the final phase.

“If for some reason we cannot sustain ourselves — with no attachments — we just let the city have the building, but then they have $350,000 more into the building than what they have now,” Mask said.

Under the proposal, the committee would manage and maintain the building, work with the city’s tourism director for opportunities, aim to grow economic development and operate fiscally independent of the city outside of some input requested.

The city would then post the $120,000 from the sale of the RFCC toward a two-part restoration of the roof ($78,200 and $18,600 between the two), replacement costs of windows due to water damage, city services, pay Jo-Carroll Energy during renovation and cover building insurance. The committee is willing to negotiate these terms.

Ottens, however, has a counter proposal that includes seeking out additional options via the city administrator. He also mentioned tearing down the Drives Building and developing a viable green space with a smaller building for the community. Bids to demolish the building, at one time, were more than $450,000, Mask said.

The committee has no interest in purchasing the building – even for $2.

“Not because we don’t want to, and not because we don’t think that it’s a viable option, we’re unanimous that building should be kept by the city because of its location,” Mask said.

Situated across from the Windmill Cultural Center and windmill itself, there’s speculation that the city is underutilizing prime property. However, Ottens said that the roof and windows — upon the city receiving the building eight years ago — were in good shape. Water damage is beginning to deteriorate parts of the building, which the committee sees as a responsibility of the city to eradicate, though fixing an empty building didn’t seem to be a priority for taxpayer funds.

Ottens would rather seek options for best use of taxpayer funds. He is against renovations with unknown numbers.

“The goal posts are going to keep moving,” he said, saying he hopes to find a plan with less risk to the community.

Before he was the mayor, Ottens addressed the council as a local businessman when the Drives Building had a potential buyer four years ago.

“This is not an average parcel of land in this community; this is a cornerstone across from the windmill, the windmill museum, the tourist centerpiece and I think as such, that needs to be the due diligence on this,” Ottens acknowledged in October 2014.

He told Mask he agreed with “everything you’re saying” about community needs, and the perspective of the riverfront property. Though the future of the building, he said, depends on taxpayer need and risk.

The committee sees not utilizing the building as a disservice to the community. Some potential missed opportunities, which could be provided by the Drives Building, they say, include turning it into a learning vessel for tourism or a banquet room for conferences and events.

The committee is eager to put the pledged $350,000 toward renovations. The money requested toward roof renovations — coming from the RFCC sale — is “owed” to the Drives Building, according to Alderwoman Sue Van Kampen, because it’s a “city-owned building.”

“We’re not asking them, we’re raising (renovation) money,” said Dick Farwell, a member of Drives Building committee. “We’re asking you to fix the roof, as we have for two years. You let it leak. You just keep letting it go and letting it go.”

So far, no decision has been made on the future of the Drives Building property.

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