City cleans up unsafe complex

By Richard Snowden

Call it well-earned character, but the Harvester Square complex is one of Sycamore’s few properties to which the word “grungy” applies.

Vines spring from the window, crumbled bricks lay in massive heaps and shards of glass litter the ground beneath empty window frames. The site appears sorely out of place among some of Sycamore comparable industrial real estate.

This section of commercial property has been languishing for some time, but extensive cleanup of the buildings is under way to return the South Avenue site to commercial viability.

“Some of the material that was to be removed from the site is still there,” Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy said. “That’s in the process of being completed now, and it’s an ongoing project.”

Much of the material consists of hazardous chemicals were left over from previous occupants of the property, Sycamore City Manager Bill Nicklas said.

Once a thriving business locale, the Harvester Square property was largely abandoned during the late 1990s. In 1999, Sycamore condemned the languishing property and began demolishing parts of it because of public safety concerns.

“The federal Environmental Protection Agency is involved in completing removal of a variety of items that contain toxic chemicals,” Nicklas said. “Those chemicals have been there for quite a while, through multiple owners of the property.”

One of those owners filled the basement with barrels of acid for “pickling” wire, and since then they have sat below time-worn floors that are threatening to collapse.

“The city wasn’t really sure what to do with it,” Mundy said. “Nobody wanted to develop it with EPA rules hanging over it, so we’re cleaning it up so it can be redeveloped.”

“We have to work with the EPA to see that the site is properly cleaned up. Once the cleanup is done, the EPA has to declare it clean, so to speak, and then we can go from there.”

Area businesses have already expressed an interest in redeveloping the property, Mundy said.

“I’m not at liberty to give any specifics, but we’ve had some interest from within our local business community about building on the site when the cleanup is completed,” Mundy said. “It could be a major development again one of these days.”

Sycamore approved the restoration project nearly 10 years ago, but it was shelved until two years ago when the city received a Municipal Brownfields Redevelopment Grant from the Illinois state EPA to help fund the effort.

Mundy explained government regulations, in addition to the need for extra funding, have caused delays in the project.

“When you’re working with state and federal regulatory agencies, there’s a lot of red tape to deal with,” Mundy said. “The project is moving forward, but it will take time due to bureaucratic issues.”

Despite the delays, Nicklas praised the federal and state agencies for their assistance in the effort. The project finally appears to be well on its way to completion, Nicklas said.

“Once this [cleanup] step is complete, we’ll do some soil tests and complete the demolition,” Nicklas said. “When that’s all done, we can get under way with refurbishing the site.”

“My best guess is that it’ll probably be about another year or so before the project is finished. As long as our funding holds out, we’ll hope to have the property ready for redevelopment around that time.”