NIU ends talks for Wurlitzer property

By Eric Krol

After a three year struggle, NIU has formally dropped out of the chase to develop and lease the DeKalb Wurlitzer property.

Roger Hopkins, director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, said talks have ended between NIU, GTE and the city of DeKalb on creating a research facility. NIU would have been a prime tenant of the structure, which is on land located four miles south of campus.

GTE inherited the $1.75 million parcel of land and buildings when it merged with Contel last year and it was attempting to develop the old piano factory into a research park. NIU wanted to purchase the land but then-governor Jim Thompson vetoed the money.

Tom Montiegel, NIU vice president of Development and University Relations, was talking with GTE but was out of town on business and could not be reached for comment. However, Ken Beasley, NIU assistant for government relations, said NIU could not make the move because of its tight budget situation.

Hopkins said a study done by Balcor Consulting looked at the cost and feasibility of building an office and research park. The study was paid for by all three parties, he added.

Beasley said the study showed the property does not lend itself well to development into a research park because of the cost of conversion and the lack of demand for research space.

Hopkins said the study examined this type of development at other schools like Northwestern. “In a community our size, the university would be the critical mass, having to take up at least 50 percent of the space,” he said.

In these other cases, Hopkins said, the land was donated and an additional grant was given to defray the costs.

The park would have made DeKalb the west cornerstone of the interstate 88 research corridor. However, Hopkins said he doesn’t think all hope is lost. “It’s going to take a company that needs a training center,” Hopkins said. “They can become the sole users of the property.”