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Rock Island County Courthouse preservationists: 'We think what's been done can be undone'
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Rock Island County Courthouse preservationists: 'We think what's been done can be undone'

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People who want to save the historic Rock Island County Courthouse from demolition have launched a last-ditch effort to find a developer interested in renovating the building for a new use or in purchasing, restoring and leasing it back to the county.

If a developer can be found, the group hopes that would encourage reconsideration by the Rock Island County Board, which voted 16-6 in July to approve an intergovernmental agreement to hand the jail over to the Public Building Commission for demolition.

"We know it's late in the game and people are telling us that, but we are getting encouragement," said Randy Brockway, a Quad-City native living west of Chicago who is dedicated to historic preservation. Maybe some county board members voted the way they did because there were no alternatives, he said.

A rally to support the reconsider cause will be held at 1 p.m. Monday on the courthouse lawn, 210 15th St., Rock Island. Supporters are urging everyone who feels as they do to attend.

The effort to find a developer is one of two recent actions involving the 1896 courthouse; the other is a citizen complaint filed in Rock Island District Court questioning the legality of using $1.6 million left over from the building of the Justice Center Annex to demolish the historic courthouse.

"We have the best intentions," Brockway said. "We think what's been done can be undone."

The group seeking a developer, including members of the Rock Island and Moline preservation societies, is sending requests for "letters of interest" to 58 developers around the Midwest.

These are companies that have already completed successful renovations of historic buildings, including Restoration St. Louis and The Alexander Co., based in Madison, Wisconsin, Brockway said.

Suggestions for new uses include professional offices, retail space, document storage, restaurant space, a museum and a nonprofit center.

The letter points out two positives that could make renovation/restoration more doable than it might have been in the past, both involving the availability of tax credits as a way of financing the cost.

First, the Illinois Legislature has passed a state historic tax credit program, effective January of 2019, that could fund up to 25 percent of a project's qualified construction costs if the developer was successful in his or her  application.

Developers can use the tax credits themselves or, as is usually the case, they can sell them to investors to generate equity (money) to finance the redevelopment. Tax credits are attractive to investors because they provide a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the investor's tax liability on ordinary income.

The state program will have an annual limit of $15 million in credits awarded, with no single project receiving more than $3 million.

Second, the city of Rock Island is preparing a nomination asking that the downtown, including the courthouse, be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such status, approved by the National Park Service, is a prerequisite for applying for federal historic tax credits. Under the current timeline, the nomination would be filed in 2019, but the state historic preservation office already has deemed the courthouse as eligible.

The letter to developers acknowledges the courthouse's drawbacks, including:

• The building's roof is due for a replacement.

• The building's mechanical and electrical systems are outdated.

• The elevator will need ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) upgrades and modernization.

• The property may contain hazardous materials, such as lead-based paint and asbestos.

• The basement will need waterproofing work to address leaks and puddles on the floor that appear during periods of wet weather.

Supporters hope to get letters back by the end of November with a target date of Dec. 1 for approaching the county board.

Meanwhile, requests for proposals for demolition have already gone out and are to be returned by Oct. 30.

The proposals will go to the building commission, not the county board, but wording of the intergovernmental agreement approved in July granted oversight to Rock Island County Administrator Jim Snider.

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