Corner Block 'Absolutely' Still Sound

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“Is the building structurally viable? Absolutely,” architect David Leonatti said after a tour of the Corner Block building that anchors downtown Hillsboro.

The architect toured the building with Commissioner Michael Murphy, City Planner Jonathan Weyer, and Superintendent Jim May before appearing at the Hillsboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22.  The goal is to develop a plan that will get the building stabilized, rehabbed, and usable again.

“If we don’t get the process started, it will never happen,” Murphy said.

May, who in addition to his job as superintendent of Hillsboro’s parks and public property is also an active volunteer in preserving the city’s history, envisions a procedure that could package public and private incentives for a developer to take on the project.  The building is currently on the market.

“Then we could say to a potential buyer, ‘here’s what we can help with,’” May said.

A potential first step in the process is the city engaging Leonatti’s firm, Melotte-Mores-Leonatti-Parker, a Springfield business that has specialized in urban design and historic preservation since 1978.  Leonatti, a principal in the firm who lives in Carlinville, believes the building is worthy of the effort.

“I love the building,” he said.  “It’s worth saving.  It has good, solid bones.”

If hired, his firm would examine the building top to bottom–including an opinion from masonry experts–report on what needs to be done to the building, assign potential costs and possible avenues for funding, and suggest possible uses by which a developer could recover those costs.

“Like, perhaps, remodeling upper stories for residential uses,” he mused.

Last week’s walk-through was Leonatti’s second–he had also toured the building in 2012–and was still impressed by the structure’s unique characteristics.

“I’ve never seen another barn-roofed building in a downtown setting,” the architect noted.

The building features hardwood floors on both the second and third floors, beautiful woodworking throughout former apartments on the second floor, a cavernous 2,600-ish square foot hall on the third floor, and an elevator shaft that is original to the building.

At the top of that shaft is a beam that bears the scripted name JM Whitehead.

“He built the building,” May said.

The tour even popped into the attic, which Leonatti described as “structurally great.”

“It has some issues,” he said, “but I don’t see anything to make me think it’s falling down.”

Issues? There are leaks and holes that have let in the elements–and pigeons–for years.

Those on the tour who hope to begin a process that eventually revitalizes the building also realize that many look at the structure and just see dollar signs–lots of them.  That’s why they hope to come up with a plan that also includes potential financial solutions.

The alternative, Murphy pointed out, would also be expensive.

“If we do nothing, I think it will sooner or later be a huge demolition cost,” the city commissioner said.

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