Property acquisition unlikely

By Stephanie Bradley

There now is only about a 30 percent chance NIU will be able to purchase the former Wurlitzer Corp. property on Gurler Road because of a lack of capital development bond funds, said Thomas Montiegel, NIU vice president of development and university relations.

“I’m not very optimistic. There’s no money to run or renovate (the facility),” Montiegel said.

The property has been proposed as the possible site of an NIU Engineering and Research Park, and NIU has been trying to raise funds for the purchase and renovation of the property. Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc. currently owns the property.

John Lewis, NIU director of corporate relations, said NIU has an agreement with Equitable that the property will not be up for sale to other firms unless NIU fails to act before the Aug. 31 deadline set by both NIU and Equitable.

NIU officials argued the price of the facility down to $400,000 from $1.2 million. This amount did not cover funds needed for restoration.

An appropriations bill to fund the purchase and renovation of the property which the Illinois General Assembly had approved was vetoed by Gov. James Thompson Aug. 1. The bill would have partially funded the project. An amount of $387,000 had been obtained as donations from the private sector.

Montiegel said NIU has until Wednesday to submit a new offer or “Equitable can go sell it to whomever it wants.”

NIU President John LaTourette said last Thursday, “Equitable has been understanding all along as far as giving us time to raise the money. Equitable has not sold the property yet, as far as I know. We hope to have a development within the next few weeks.” If the project is not viable, NIU will not pursue it, he said.

Equitable Vice President Jonathan Miller said he could not say which companies also were interested in the property. “Any predictions I could make would be premature. NIU has until the end of the month (to decide). I can’t comment on it,” he said, although “we hope for a resolution soon.”

“It’s more than the ability to get the funds to buy the building,” Rep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, said. “It needs maintenance and work.” The property probably would cost more than the original cost of $1.2 million when renovation and maintenance costs are added to the price of purchase, he said.

Countryman said he would be willing to help NIU obtain the property again if NIU wants to try to raise the funds next year. “It’s entirely up to NIU,” he said.

Countryman sponsored the appropriations bill that was defeated by the governor.

“(LaTourette) had the commitments for funding” and Equitable was willing to wait for NIU to make a decision, Countryman said. “If NIU gets the property, it will boost the economy for the DeKalb area.”

NIU’s acquisition of the property would generate at least 1,400 jobs and provide educational opportunities and research for NIU students. Several NIU administrators have said the park would give the DeKalb area an economic boost as well as help in making NIU the anchor for the I-88 High-Tech Corridor.