Historical Society plan will save Drives Building

My name is Wendy Ottens owner of the downtown business ”Sweet Woodruff “ and soon another business called “Living by the River." This letter is not about me but my thoughts regarding the historical building donated to the city of Fulton over 10 years ago, known as the Drives Building. The community has had several opinions on what or what should not happen to the building. I just cannot contain my excitement now because the Historical Society has stepped up to the plate and decided to make the city of Fulton an offer. What an answer to, at least, my prayers.

The city council had made it quite clear from the beginning that they did not want to own or have anything to do with the building. The city determined with the demolition that it was the best choice because the prior group wanted it to stay under city domain to take advantage of no electric bills, no real estate taxes and the protection of the city insurances. I must admit, I too thought the group should buy the building outright.

My reasons are very different from that of the city. I had never thought of the building as having no value. Just the opposite, I could see the potential and was excited for the city of Fulton. To see this beauty brought back to life on its historical site and giving it a new purpose would be a dream come true. I was excited about the possibilities and what a restoration of that magnitude could do for our little town. That building is a 19,000-square-foot, brick building with a beautiful view of the river from the upper levels. The median cost to construct that building today is close to $2 million based on $100 per square foot and, in my opinion, would be much higher.

When it was built, the materials used were of high quality. My husband and I own several buildings downtown and most of our brick walls are in some areas three bricks thick. Now you need to add the value of a complete city block, next to the river and sitting by our fantastic windmill and Cultural Center. The city’s neglect of their responsibilities in repairing the building when needed and as of late not repairing the roof has made this an unnecessary challenge for any new owner.

The other committee could see the potential and had a specific plan to upgrade and start work immediately but without the help of the city found that task financially impossible. With the demise of that group, another donor came to light just when the city was setting out for bids to demolish the Drives Building. New funds from a charitable trust fund and the Historical Society taking over this task of the renovation, we now have the hope of this project becoming a reality. The Historical Society is a non-profit group that can apply for several grants and take this project on with gusto! The Fulton Historical Society is incorporated in the State of Illinois. It is classified as a 501c3 status designated by the Internal Revenue Service.

Let’s look at this another way: If any of you have read books written by Covey, this is what you call a win-win. The city doesn’t want to own the building or repair any further problems. This is totally fixing that problem with the Historical Society buying the building. The city won’t have to spend taxpayers’ dollars unnecessarily with the cost of the demolition bids coming in at $150,000 and the cost to repair the grounds so it will look amended and be safe for all citizens.

We have been told over and over again by the mayor that the city does not have the monies needed. To be perfectly honest and if that money exists, I would like that money to go to a better cause. We need many streets and alleys addressed, the main street where our businesses reside needs a complete overhaul with new lights and sidewalks, the infrastructure throughout the city needs updated and pumps to take away excess water when we receive heavy rains. These are just a few complaints I have heard.

This is why I am so excited. We can now save a historical building, give other businesses opportunities to grow, save the taxpayers the money it would cost for demolishing, create the possibilities for the city’s budget to gain more revenue from sales tax with the potential of creating new businesses and everyone walks away a winner. As a business owner of many years I know the more businesses you have the more all participants benefit. There will be a need to include already existing businesses, such as catering for events and much more. I am so pleased that this adventure can continue in Fulton. Other towns will be envious of such a large project coming to our community where giving and prosperity will grow.

Wendy Ottens,

Fulton, Ill.