By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Mount Carroll is getting an early Christmas present.
Brian Hollenback, CEO and president of the Economic Growth Corporation, in Rock Island, told The Mirror-Democrat Monday afternoon, Dec. 10, that he expects his company to take ownership of the vacant Campbell Center campus and all its buildings before the end of the week.
In a telephone interview Monday, Hollenback said his corporation plans to convert Sawyer House, the two-story brick residence that sits just inside the iron gates across from Metcalf Tower, into its local administration office as well as for multi-use purposes.
He added that Sawyer House, built in 1926, may be utilized by developers who need to stay in the area overnight. By late summer 2019, Economic Growth Corp. plans to begin work on developing two buildings on the eastern edge of the campus for residential housing purposes.
The question of what would happen to the property has weighed on the minds of Mount Carroll officials, board members and citizens since the Campbell Center Board of Directors formally disbanded in late 2017.
Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies was established in 1979 on the site of Shimer College, which was founded in 1853 as the Mount Carroll Seminary and then became affiliated with the University of Chicago and was renamed the Frances Shimer Academy in 1896. It was renamed Shimer College in 1950 and operated as a four-year liberal arts college. The college left Mount Carroll in 1978 for Waukegan due to declining enrollment and financial difficulties.
Campbell Center (later renamed as the Illinois Preservation Studies Center, or IPSC) was founded as a small center for historical preservation training. It evolved to be a training organization for museum professionals, librarians, archivists, conservationists and historic preservationists.
After the IPSC program was sold to Highland Community College last March, representatives from the Campbell Center Board reported the campus would be closing. During a March 22 meeting, the Mount Carroll City Council heard that following the loss of a $250,000 federal grant, the board kept the school going as long as possible. However, debts eventually became too much.
At that time, Campbell Center Attorney John Cox reported that there was more than $75,000 in debt (not including the mortgage for the Sawyer House). The sale to Highland Community College brought in approximately $50,000.
Since then, much discussion has been held on what would happen to the historic 14-acre property. Initially, the City of Mount Carroll was asked if it wanted to take over the campus. However, more than one member of the city and the council expressed concerns about shouldering such a responsibility and liability. The city did take on the responsibility of keeping the property mowed this spring and summer.
For the past few months, Cox and Mayor Carl Bates have reported that a Quad Cities developer had shown interested in taking ownership of the property.
Last Friday, Dec. 7, Cox officially confirmed that the Economic Growth Corporation of Rock Island, had asked him to draw up a deed for the property. He expected the transfer of the title to either happen later that day or earlier this week.
"It looks like we've got it finalized, which is wonderful," Cox told The Mirror-Democrat.
The Galena attorney said the resolution was a "long time coming,” emphasizing that the Campbell Center Board appreciated everyone's patience during the "difficult" process.
Cox expressed excitement regarding Economic Growth Corporation taking over the property, adding that the corporation has a good reputation and a great deal of experience rehabilitating properties.
"I think there's every reason to believe this is going to work out," Cox said.
Hollenback explained Monday, that he first heard of the issues facing the Campbell Center through an architect who introduced him to Cox. He also had an employee, Amy Clark, (formerly Amy McColley) who graduated from Mount Carroll High School in 1995, who was familiar with the Campbell Center.
"The stars just kind of aligned," Hollenback said.
He then began working with Cox and Mayor Bates on a possible project. He said both men were "fantastic to work with."
After learning more about the campus' history and walking through the property, Hollenback said he knew the Campbell Center would be a great location for an economic growth project.
"You walk on that campus, you just know that good things need to happen there," Hollenback said.
Mayor Bates expressed excitement about the transfer moving forward. He said he planned to give an update on the title transfer at the Tuesday, Dec. 11, council meeting.
The mayor said that it is "an exciting time," to see such a development group take on this 14-acre property.
"It's a huge, huge burden off the shoulders of the city," Mayor Bates said.
Cox added that he hopes Economic Growth Corporation has "great success" with the project.
"It's a big, big project," Cox said.
According to the corporation's website, Economic Growth Corporation (GROWTH) is "a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the overall image and economic vitality of underserved communities."
This is accomplished by improving housing market dynamics, providing fair and equal housing access, encouraging home ownership, providing homeownership counseling, foreclosure prevention counseling, creating jobs, and growing the tax base.
"GROWTH is regarded as a national leader in developing innovative housing opportunities and commercial developments by facilitating community partnerships," stated the website.
Last Thursday, Dec. 6, Hollenback visited the Campbell Center, along with other members of the team planning to work on the project.
Hollenback said he is looking forward to developing the campus in a number of ways and stated that they plan to hold more than one community meeting to address plans for the property.
He added that he also hopes to see Mayfest return to the Campbell Center and is willing to work with organizers to make that a reality. Mayfest was held for 37 consecutive years on the Campbell Center campus, starting in 1982 through 2017.
Hollenback joined the Economic Growth Corporation in 1998 and became president and CEO in June 2008. Under his senior leadership, the organization has evolved into an $80 million, multi-faceted entity.
He oversees the direction of five companies, which include national for-profit and not-for-profit economic development entities: CDC (Community Development Corporation), CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), CDE (Community Development Entity), and a national Property Management Company.
Since 2008, 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, including Sterling, Galena and Fulton.
The corporation and its subsidiaries have helped create and support more than 4,500 jobs throughout Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Florida.