NIU might lose bid on land

By Michelle Landrum

NIU could lose its bid to buy the former Wurlitzer Company headquarters to private interests.

Two private parties have shown interest in buying the property on 403 Gurler Road, four miles south of NIU, to convert it to a business incubator, said Steve Milner, owner of Century 21 Milner and Associates, exclusive sales agent for the property.

Word of renewed interest in the property comes after it was revealed in The Northern Star last week that $2 million had been appropriated by the Illinois legislature for NIU to buy and remodel the property to create a research park.

“We are in a holding pattern, just waiting for the money to be released by the state,” said NIU Assistant to the President Kenneth Beasley. The university is still interested in the property, but must adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude until the funding is certain, he said.

NIU was allocated $2 million through an amendment sponsored by John Countryman, R-DeKalb, to a $358.2 million Capital Development Bill approved Aug. 25. The approval came with a cautionary note by Gov. James Thompson that the money might not be available.

alf of the money is allocated to the purchase of the property, and the other half toward renovation, Milner said. When asked if $1 million would be enough to buy the property, Milner said no.

The former owners of the property, Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc., asked $1.5 million for the property, but eventually dropped the price to $400,000. Last December, Equitable sold the property to Briarwood Development, of Carmel, Ind., Milner said.

Milner said NIU has contacted him about the property, but “we have not entered into any negotiations in this property with NIU.”

It is possible NIU could stall the sale of the property by use of eminent domain, but Beasley said NIU “would have to show compelling need” to use eminent domain, he said.

“I think Northern is moving very cautiously at this point,” Milner said. The university faced an “embarrassing situation” last year when it was announced that NIU would buy the Wurlitzer property, but later found no money was available, he said.

Last year, the state legislature approved $1.2 million bill which would have funded part of the university’s purchase and renovation of the property. However, Thompson vetoed the measure Aug. 31, 1988, citing uncertain funding.

The sale of the property “has been a project of a lot of rumor and innuendo the past four years,” Milner said.

The university has considered the site as a research park, business incubator or campus satellite to ease current space problems on campus, Beasley said.

It was reported the 70-acre property, which includes six buildings and 132,000 square feet of usable space, might have been bought by the state and used for a minimum security prison. “We have not spoken to anyone, directly or indirectly, in regard to turning the property into a prison,” Milner said.

Briarwood “is very much interested in dealing with NIU,” Milner said. “Our client is very interested in doing what is good for the community,” he said.

If NIU is unable to buy the property, the owners are open to leasing a percentage of the property to NIU, Milner said.

Development of the Wurlitzer property into a research park or business incubator has been called a step in establishing DeKalb as the western anchor of the Interstate 88 high-tech corridor, originating in Chicago.