Thursday, Oct. 12

New hope for old Mill          Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 12, 2006]  City officials were left with a lot to think about on Tuesday evening when they heard a new proposal on what to do with the dilapidated Mill restaurant. Geoff Ladd came before the council, representing the newly formed Route 66 Foundation of Logan County.

The Mill has been a problem property in Lincoln for about 15 years. The city is in the middle of proceedings with the current owner of the property.

Dennis Koehler was unable to pursue his intended plans for the property. The city pressed him to get it demolished, which after almost two years led to court a few months ago and resulted in a ruling of $32,000 in violations.

Koehler's lawyer sent a letter to the city earlier this month stating that Koehler was willing to turn the property over to the city if he would be relieved of the fines and any other liability for the property.

Ladd said on Tuesday that the Route 66 Association of Logan County would like the property turned over to them. He said that they recognize the importance of dealing with the property in a timely fashion. "We think there is a way where we can get rid of an eyesore and end up with a historic site as well," he said.

Ladd went on to explain a plan for funding the renovations and getting the work done. He said that a descendant of the original owners, Brian Huffman, who owns Halley's, is key to the success of the project. Huffman is ready to help acquire a loan to get the work started while the new association waits for their 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status.

The association will move to fundraising and seek private donations to continue the work. Ladd emphasized that no tax dollars would be used for the project, and there are a number of volunteers ready to help with the preservation work.

The first of three phases would be to demolish the back section. The back area of the building was added by interned Japanese labor during the World War II era. The writing on those walls would be preserved if possible.

A large portion of the building is likely to have asbestos. That work would be hired out. Very little of the original structure would remain, Ladd said. This portion of the work is expected to cost $20,000 to $24,000 and take two months to complete.

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The front of the building was the original part of the structure, known as The Blue Mill, circa 1920-1929. It would be preserved.

The second phase would be the beautification phase and would focus on the facade. Volunteers could be used for this work. The front would be polished. There would be painting, mowing, flowers and maybe window art. It would include adding a Route 66 attraction sign. This phase is also estimated to take two months to complete.

The project would create a photo attraction for tourists to stop and have their pictures taken. There are people already coming to it, as it is listed on the AAA tourist attractions.

It is projected to draw 5,000 new tourists annually as a Route 66 photo spot and possibly 10,000-25,000 tourists annually when it opens as a museum. Tourists spend an average of $135 per person when they come into town, Ladd said.

The ultimate goal is complete restoration, which would include a building to use as a museum, gifts and souvenirs shop. It would take several years and a bigger cost.

The Route 66 Association of Illinois, the Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project, the National Scenic Byways Program and a number of local leaders are supportive of this project, according to Ladd. "This restoration would gain national and international recognition for the city," he said.

City attorney Bill Bates said that several things would probably need to take place for the property to be deeded over to the Route 66 Association of Logan County. He would need to see if Judge Bailey would be willing to vacate the fines that have been assessed against Koehler.

Aldermen and Mayor Beth Davis all favored the proposal, seeing it as the best opportunity to come along yet for resolution for the problem property.

It may take a couple of weeks to sort out the legal issues in the matter.

[Jan Youngquist]


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