By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Plans for the Campbell Center property in Mount Carroll, including the possible return of Mayfest to the campus, are moving forward.
Three deeds were filed at the Carroll County Courthouse Monday, Dec. 31, transferring ownership of the campus and all of the buildings, from the Campbell Center Board and the Savanna-Thomson State Bank (which held a mortgage on the Sawyer House) to the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation.
The Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation, a not-for-profit economic development entity dedicated to "enhancing the overall image and economic vitality of underserved communities," has been looking into taking over the Campbell Center (formerly Shimer College) campus for the past several months.
The corporation's president and CEO, Brian Hollenback, told the Carroll County Mirror-Democrat in December that he knew the campus would be a great location for an economic growth project.
Mayor Carl Bates issued a statement on the property transfers being completed, saying the city of Mount Carroll, as well as all of northwest Illinois "received a blessing for Christmas and looking into the New Year with the transfer of the Campbell Center.”
The mayor continued, saying, "I would like to thank the STSB (Savanna-Thomson State Bank) for their willingness to make a smooth transition to Economic Growth Corporation, the people of Mount Carroll for their continued support of this Campus, the City employees who had to endure the mowing and clean up, the numerous volunteers and volunteer groups that made several work days of picking up sticks and keeping watchful eyes on the Campus property, and the Campbell Center Board for not walking away and leaving the Campus to the City of Mount Carroll.”
Since 2008, the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation has deployed nearly $300 million of capital, created 263 downtown housing units, impacted 1,271 single family homes in northwestern Illinois, and helped welcome nearly 800 homebuyers into northwestern Illinois.
The corporation and its subsidiaries have helped create and support more than 4,500 jobs throughout Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Florida.
Friday afternoon, Jan. 4, Hollenback reported on plans to have the gas turned back on at the Sawyer House sometime this week. The corporation plans to utilize the Sawyer House as an office, as well as a place for administrators and contractors to spend the night while working on Phase I of the development project.
At the Dec. 11, city council meeting, Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation Construction Director Andrew Fisher speculated that the development of the property could be broken into five or more phases and span seven or more years. Phase I is expected to begin in late summer of 2019, with the development of two buildings on the eastern edge of the campus for residential housing purposes.
However, Hollenback said Friday, that while preliminary plans for Phase I are being developed, the corporation's "primary focus" will be bringing Mayfest back to the campus.
"Mayfest will be back at the Campbell Center," Hollenback said.
The annual music and arts and crafts festival was canceled in 2018 due to the closing of the campus and the relocation (sale) of the Illinois Preservation Studies Center (IPSC) to Highland Community College in March. Hollenback said last week that he has already begun working with members of the new Mayfest committee for this year's festival.
"I want to be very supportive for Mayfest," said Hollenback, adding "I think that's significant for the community."
Hollenback was thankful for all of the assistance he has received from the Campbell Center Board and the city on the acquisition of the property. Campbell Center attorney John Cox, who prepared the deed documents, said he was happy to see the transfer happen before the start of the new year.
"It's a good day," Cox said, adding that on behalf of the Campbell Center Board of Directors, everyone is pleased to see the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation take over the campus.
"Hopefully it will lead to some significant growth and economic development in Mount Carroll," Cox said.
Mount Carroll Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Elliott expressed excitement over the transfer of the Campbell Center properties to the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation.
"This is a win-win-win for Mount Carroll," Elliott said.
He added that before this acquisition, it was "pretty dire" for the Campbell Center. The Mount Carroll City Council (of which Elliott also is an alderman) heard on March 22 that the Campbell Center had lost a $250,000 federal grant. While the board kept the school and campus going as long as possible, by that time debts had became too much.
Elliott added that the Chamber is ready and willing to work with the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation and give it any help needed to ensure plans go through.
"Long-term, it's going to affect Mount Carroll in so many positive ways," Elliott said.
Hollenback said the corporation hopes to host public meetings on Phase I of the project once preliminary plans are finished. He added that he plans to provide information about the corporation and the project during the Mayfest event.
Hollenbeck added that the corporation also is working on an extension for the arboretum at the campus.