On Thursday, Peerless Development received a $500 grant award from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC)—in connection with an engineering study that found the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack to be structurally unsound.
Peerless owns the historic smokestack, along with the creamery building, which is located off 7th Street on the B Line Trail. Earlier this year, the city council designated the building as a historic district.
Peerless is currently looking at a cost of around $350,000 to partly demolish the smokestack and another $250,000, which mayor John Hamilton’s administration wants the developer to contribute towards commemorative art for the smokestack.
The city of Bloomington has ordered Peerless to reduce the height of the smokestack from 140 feet to 60 feet.
Compared to the half million dollars in smokestack-related costs Peerless might be facing, the size of the HPC’s grant is small.
But as HPC member Sam DeSollar put it, “I think it’s a goodwill gesture.” Peerless has had to spend “a bucket of money” to figure out how to deal with the smokestack and its unsafe lean, DeSollar said. “I won’t feel guilty about defraying their costs by $500.” He added, “And we’re going to have to work with these folks in the future on what happens with this—so I’m going to support this.”
Dissenting on the vote was Matthew Seddon, who said the cost of the Arsee Engineers report was definitely within the guidelines for the grant, which talks about consulting fees. But the guidelines for the HPC grants say the consulting fees are supposed to be associated with the rehabilitation of a historic property. From Seddon’s perspective, the project was not about rehabilitation: “These guys are taking the thing down!”
Historic preservation program manager Gloria Colom Braña pointed out that there is considerable tuck-pointing that will be done on the remaining 60 feet of smokestack.
Demolition won’t start at least until August, because AT&T has communications equipment mounted near the top of the smokestack—and that gear has not yet been removed.
The $500 grant from the HPC adds to the $20,000 that Peerless was awarded by Bloomington’s urban enterprise association (BUEA) last week.
The costs associated with commemorative art are connected to a new residential building that Peerless wants to construct on the north half of the lot.
The residential development is supposed to include 51 apartments right next to the B-Line Trail, off 7th Street. In connection with that development, which already has plan commission approval, Peerless has a request pending in front of the city council for an alley vacation. Part of the proposed new building would stand in the alley, which is public right-of-way. The smokestack itself already stands in the alley.
In simple terms, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration wants the city council to demand, in exchange for an alley vacation, a $250,000 contribution from Peerless towards public art to commemorate the lost 80 feet of smokestack. To help cover that $250,000 cost, Peerless is also looking to its title insurance company, because the company that did the title search appears to have missed the alley.
It’s in that context that Peerless is also looking to other sources for funding, like the BUEA and the HPC.
The alley vacation has been postponed twice before by the city council. It should appear on the council’s agenda for its July 20 meeting.