FULTON, Ill. — Nearly one year after local developer Jeffery Zajicek began construction on a new incubator building in Fulton, the city has asked him to stop.
The reason — alleged violations to the contract signed in November 2013 by Zajicek and city leaders.
During a city council meeting this week, Zajicek, accompanied by legal representation, argued his case that to this point his development has not violated any contract agreements that were previously set.
The city council did not see it that way.
“Even if we take out this mental image of the building and the drawings that you gave us, it still comes back to this written agreement and all this is, is a big deviation of what we signed,” First Ward Alderwoman Barb Mask said. “We in good faith, sat right here and I absolutely trusted and believed you, and other aldermen said we wanted to do business with you, we have a lot of trust and confidence in you. Why are we so far away from that written agreement?”
According to Zajicek’s attorney Magen Mertes, the facility’s construction has followed the specifications of the original design, which was approved by the city, and has not gone away from that.
In the agreement, Zajicek proposed the construction of a 10,000 square foot incubator building complete with two front office spaces, with four additional units on the rear of the building to be used as storage.
When he brought the proposal to the city council, it was stated by several aldermen that another mini-storage facility would not be permitted by city officials.
After the building’s construction began, First Ward Alderman Gene Field said he distinctly remembered thinking, “that sure looks like a storage facility to me.”
“To me if you look at that facility out there it looks to me like there’s a heck of a lot of personal storage designed in this project,” Field said. “Why would this be put up this way? This was one of the stipulations that we didn’t want personal storage, but you look at that facility down there and I can see some office space possibly in the front, but in the back, boy there’s a lot of personal storage there.”
Because of the concerns of the council and because Zajicek wants to continue the progress of his development, Mertes presented modifications in November to the original agreement, which were discussed at Monday’s meeting.
Those modifications include a size reduction on the first two incubator spaces from the agreed-upon 10,000 square feet, to the actual, constructed size of 8,000 square feet. The second modification called for the removal of the clause that restricts Zajicek’s ability to use the four rear units as temporary self-storage.
Mertes believed the classification of self-storage was vaguely described in the original agreement and should be redacted to allow Zajicek the ability to earn some income while waiting for tenants to occupy the incubator.
“Since this is built on spec he needs to be able to pay the loan,” Mertes said. “That was always the discussion; there has to be some ability to generate money while we’re hoping that some business will come in here and be successful in an incubator. If that incubator is only there for six months and isn’t successful, how is he going to be able to pay for this building?”
Another modification that Mertes presented was one that was supported by the council, though members weren’t exactly sure how Zajicek would accomplish it.
Since the four rear units of the building were built similar to what Field classified as storage units, Zajicek proposed that he would remove the metal, garage-style doors that are currently on the building and replace them with individual entrances complete with windows in each unit, mimicking the facade of the two front office spaces.
Those four units also will be provided with electricity and the ability to provide heat once a tenant is contracted.
But the potential for future tenants and future businesses is dependent on if the city of Fulton is willing to accept the contract modifications and move forward with the project; a decision that the majority of the council was not ready to agree upon.
The council will continue discussion in the coming weeks on the Zajicek development before coming to a final conclusion, and if they cannot reach an agreement, litigation could be the next step; a step Mertes said Zajicek is hoping to avoid with the city.
“From our perspective, we don’t want this to lead to litigation,” Mertes said. “I think everyone loses in that. Obviously the city loses, the Zajicek’s lose, the only people that win are probably the attorneys. They want to avoid that; they’re local business people; they love Fulton; they want to get business in here; they want to succeed. They’re not trying to pull the wool; in they’re opinion they built what they said they’d build.”
Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at email@example.com.