Rochelle City Council approves Hickory Grove proposal

(Photo by Russell Hodges)

City to purchase building from Ogle County Civic Center Authority, begin redevelopment process

ROCHELLE — A landmark building in the City of Rochelle’s north corridor may not be around much longer, but council and city staffers are working to make the future much brighter.

Rochelle City Council members unanimously approved a proposal Monday evening calling for the acquisition and demolition of the Hickory Grove Banquet & Convention Center, located at 1127 N. 7th St. in Rochelle. The building’s prospects became public knowledge over the weekend, when Robin Baldwin Gounaris, owner and operator of Abraham’s Bar & Grille inside Hickory Grove, published a lengthy Facebook post about the future of the property.

“For 15 years, I have tried to save [Hickory Grove],” Baldwin Gounaris wrote. “I have come to the decision that I can no longer save it. After many meetings with potential buyers, investors, the county and the city, there are just too many building issues and zero funds to fix them.”

City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh presented City Council members with the proposal, which calls for the City of Rochelle to purchase Hickory Grove from the Ogle County Civic Center Authority, which currently owns the building, for $1. The city would then demolish the building and secure a private development partner to construct a new mixed-use property on the site.

Demolition estimates ($250,000), engineering estimates ($50,000) and city carrying costs ($12,000) will total roughly $312,000, with all costs reimbursed by TIFs. Fiegenschuh said the overall goals of the project are property redevelopment and long-term sustainability.

“Although OCCCA is a quasi-public entity, the organization doesn’t have any taxing authority,” Fiegenschuh said. “The Hickory Grove facility… doesn’t generate any property tax revenue, and lease payments are inadequate to continue the operation... I think there are a lot of opportunities on that site to do something great.”

The proposal included the approval of a contract not to exceed $50,000 with Willett Hoffman & Associates to oversee all aspects of the bidding and demolition of the facility. According to the proposed timeline laid out during Fiegenschuh’s presentation, the City of Rochelle would purchase Hickory Grove from OCCCA this week before closing on the property in early March. Hickory Grove would continue hosting scheduled events until closing its doors on July 19, when the city will begin auctioning off materials and equipment to recoup overdue utility costs.

Willett Hoffman would then conduct asbestos and mold inspections throughout early July before beginning the demolition process on Oct. 15. The city would work with a potential developer during the fall and winter months to acquire and develop the site, with demolition and site preparation work completed during that time period as well.

Both Fiegenschuh and Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows clarified Monday evening that any construction work on the Hickory Grove site will not impact neighboring hotel and condominium facilities.

“I’m committed to this project and I will personally oversee this project,” Fiegenschuh said. “I think there’s a real opportunity to turn that site into a real gem for our community. We’ve worked really hard over the last few years to redevelop the downtown area, and we’re going to continue that, but we can’t forget about the other corridors in our community… I think there’s an opportunity to turn that site into something we can all be very, very proud of.”

Notables

The City Council approved a roughly $1.2 million contract with Martin and Company Excavating, as well as a $108,000 improvement add-on, for construction work on Mulford Road from Union Pacific Railroad to Creston Road along the Rochelle Municipal Landfill. The City Council also approved an escrow agreement between the City of Rochelle, Rochelle Waste Disposal LLC and Central Bank Illinois for construction on Mulford Road.

The City Council authorized an ordinance amending the Municipal Code to allow for 16 eligible employees (above age 55 and with at least 15 years of service) to qualify for early separation incentives. Lastly, the City Council approved a resolution authorizing an updated agreement with Sprint for continued operation and maintenance of cellular communications equipment on the water tower located over the Illinois Route 251 overpass.

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