Shimer Square officials discuss plan with Bustos

17th District U.S. Cong. Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline) discusses the Shimer Square housing development project in Mount Carroll with Brian Hollenback, president and CEO of Economic Growth Corporation, during a visit to the campus Friday morning, Feb. 21. Also pictured seated around the conference table are, from left, architect James Baranski; Growth Construction Director Andrew Fisher; Mirror-Democrat reporter Samantha Pidde; an aide to Cong. Bustos; Mount Carroll Economic Development official Doug Sherf; and Mount Carroll Mayor Carl Bates.

By SAMANTHA PIDDE

U.S. Cong. Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline) along with several representatives from Mount Carroll, visited the Shimer Square campus Friday morning, Feb. 21, for an update on the redevelopment project from Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation (GROWTH) representatives.

More than a year ago, GROWTH took over the title of the former Shimer College (Campbell Center) property. The non-profit economic development company plans a multi-million dollar redevelopment of the 14-acre campus through several phases over a five to seven-year period.

The group met with Cong. Bustos and others in Sawyer House on the campus. GROWTH will utilize the two-story brick structure, which served as the private residence for Shimer presidents, as its main office during the project. Project officials outlined future phases and plans during the one-hour meeting in the second-floor conference room.

GROWTH CEO/President Brian Hollenbeck welcomed Cong. Bustos and her staff to the property and spoke about many of the projects GROWTH has done throughout Illinois. The corporation has been involved in many Quad Cities projects as well as redevelopment in Sterling, Galena and other communities.

In 2016, GROWTH worked with Sterling city officials and development agency Sterling Today to develop the vacant second through fifth floors of the Lawrence Building (above the Whiteside County Courthouse) into affordable 20 rental units. This $5.6 million project won the Illinois Housing Development Authority's Jon Linfield Award for innovation and excellence in affordable housing in a rural community in May 2018.

For months, GROWTH has been working on Phase 1 of the Shimer Square project to renovate the Hathaway and Bennett dormitory buildings into one-bedroom and studio apartments.

GROWTH staff and other employees have taken more than 4,000 photographs of the campus buildings for their application to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) for tax credits.

The application will be submitted soon and GROWTH hopes to start construction on the project in late summer or early fall of this year. Hollenbeck said Phase 1 is already out for bid and GROWTH is just waiting for state approval.

However, with employment at the federal Thomson Prison demanding more family housing, Hollenbeck explained to Bustos and the rest of the group that GROWTH hopes to begin another building renovation (formerly part of Phase 2) to run parallel with the Hathaway and Bennett work.

"They're calling it Phase 1, but it's really Phase 1.1,” Mount Carroll Mayor Carl Bates said about the building project.

Architect James Baranski, from Baranski, Hammer, Moretta & Sheehy Architects & Planners of Galena, explained GROWTH's plan is to renovate Dezendorf dormitory on the southwestern edge of the campus, along South Clay Street, into two and three-bedroom housing units.

He said that since this dormitory was built in the late 1950s, it is not as subject to IHPA restrictions as many of the other older buildings on campus. Baranski said this means the developers can essentially "gut" the building and create whatever floor plan they need.

Current plans for Dezendorf would be to create six two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom apartments, but Baranski said that could easily change to 15 three-bedroom units if the determine they do not need as many (or any) two-bedroom apartments in the building.

In response to a question from Cong. Bustos regarding parking, Baranski pointed out that the old tennis court area is located just north of the dormitory and would be utilized for parking.

GROWTH Multi-family Development Director Jon Davidshofer estimated monthly rent for the units (at market value) would be $925 for the two-bedroom units and $1,150 for the three-bedroom units.

Mayor Bates said he thought this seemed like a reasonable rent for the community. Davidshofer also pointed out that a portion of the building will be lower rents at affordable or workforce housing rates.

Hollenbeck emphasized that GROWTH could only move forward with the Dezendorf project at this time if it can locate another $1.3 million in funding through other resources, adding that all of the current IHPA tax credits are set to be used for the Bennett and Hathaway all work. Bustos agreed to help out where she could.

"Bringing this historic college campus back to life will be a great service to the growing community in Mount Carroll and throughout Northwestern Illinois," said Bustos, in a press release issued Friday afternoon. "I was glad to have the opportunity to visit today and see this work in progress firsthand. I look forward to the continued redevelopment of Shimer Square."

Architect Baranski also went through Phase 2 plans for the connected Hostetter and McKee buildings on the center of the campus.

This project will create another 33 units — three studio, 17 one-bedroom and 13 two-bedroom. Baranski and Hollenbeck highlighted some of the unique layouts for some of the apartments, which they felt would appeal to a variety of renters.

With the Bennett, Hathaway, Dezendorf and Hostetter-McKee renovations, Hollenbeck said as many as 85 total units will be created during the next few years.

He said he could see the apartments serving as prime "second homes" for people and that there may be Shimer alumni who wish to rent a unit in one of the buildings for part of the year.

Bustos asked how GROWTH and the city of Mount Carroll plan to market the project. Hollenbeck said there has been a lot of presence on social media and Bustos suggested future walk-throughs. Mayor Bates said the city already works on marketing itself, especially its "unique" downtown area.

"I think if we get them to stop, we can get them to stay," Bates said, adding that Mount Carroll is "blessed" to have GROWTH involved in the community.

Hollenbeck said the Shimer Square project eventually hopes to include commercial and non-residential properties on the campus. He told Bustos they already have a letter of intent for a microbrewery from Wake Brewery officials in Rock Island.

"The housing has to start (the project), but it is much more than housing," Hollenbeck said.

Representatives from GROWTH were scheduled to give an update of the project at the Tuesday, Feb. 25, Mount Carroll City Council meeting.