City of Bloomington: Unsafe building order for Johnson’s Creamery smokestack, section of B-Line Trail to be closed

In a news release issued early Thursday morning, the city of Bloomington announced that it has issued an “Unsafe Building Order to Repair” to the owners of the the old Johnson’s Creamery building on 7th Street, across the B-Line Trail from city hall.

The building is owned by Peerless Capital of Chicago, Illinois. It’s the site of planned new housing construction that would incorporate the existing structure. According to the news release, the unsafe order was issued under city code  and state statue.

The reason for the unsafe building order, according to Thursday’s news release, is the 140-foot-tall smokestack, which is located on the property. The iconic smokestack has vertical lettering that reads “Johnson’s” on its east side.

The B-Line Trail, where it passes between city hall and the Johnson’s Creamery building, will be closed off, according to the news release. As of around 8 a.m. Thursday morning, the B-Line was still open. [Updated 2:53 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2022: The latest word from the city is that as of around 11 a.m. the fencing has been installed.]

The 1949 smokestack is a bit younger than the Johnson’s Creamery building itself, which was completed in 1914. In 1996, the creamery and smokestack were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the news release.

According to the news release, an inspection on Dec. 14, 2021, determined the smokestack to be “potentially dangerous.” On Dec. 21, 2021 the city’s housing and neighborhood department (HAND) ordered it to be repaired within 60 days.

Mentioned in Thursday’s news release is some background to the order, which includes last year’s approach made by Peerless to the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC) about restoration of the smokestack.

The meeting minutes from a September 2021 HPC meeting state that Peerless was at that time applying for a $100,000 state grant to rebuild the top 15 feet of the smokestack.

Reached Thursday morning by The B Square, HAND director John Zody told The B Square that Peerless was not awarded the grant. At that point, the city wanted to ensure that a timeline was set in place for some action, Zody said.

The timeline was set in place with issuance of the unsafe building order, with its 60-day deadline. The city has been in ongoing communication with Peerless about the smokestack, Zody said.

The city’s awareness of the issue with the smokestack is traced by the news release at least back to 2017. That’s when the city conducted  due diligence when it was reviewed for potential purchase. Zody is quoted in the news release saying,  that during the 2017 due diligence,  the city “learned of significant future maintenance that would be needed to maintain the structural integrity of the smokestack.”

Peerless will need to submit restoration plans to the HPC, according to Thursday’s news release. Reinforcement bands around the brick smokestack, from apparent previous reinforcement efforts are visible on the structure.

On Thursday morning, the immediate area around the smokestack had been cordoned off with some yellow plastic chain-link roping.

Zody told The B Square that the city would install fencing  to close off the B-Line Trail, where it passes between city hall and the Johnson’s Creamery building.