News - Sauk Valley

A Plan B for Lawrence building taking shape

After several failed attempts at grant, IEPA offers another option

While progress is being made on the other side of the bridge on Rock Falls’ riverfront redevelopment, progress has been elusive on the Lawrence Brothers building in Sterling, but the city might be able to jump-start activity at the site, if it can get help from the Illinois EPA in assessing environmental hazards at the building.

STERLING – The city assumed ownership of the Lawrence Brothers building 7 years ago, and every year since, it has unsuccessfully applied for a federal grant that would clear up the uncertainty surrounding the building’s future.

The city has again applied for a $300,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment Grant. The winners won't be announced until the end of the year, but it's always a competitive grant, and the city is searching for an alternative plan.

Riverfront redevelopment is making great strides in Rock Falls, and Sterling is making progress at the Northwestern Steel and Wire site.

Stanley and the EPA are expected to wrap up environmental remediation work at the National-Stanley building before the end of the year, and on the Rock Falls side, the Limestone structure should be coming down soon.

The Lawrence building is the riverfront hurdle that still present more questions than answers. Without the EPA assessment grant that continues to elude the city, the basic question of whether the building can be reused or must be demolished can't be answered.

The city hopes this is the year it gets its grant, but officials realize it must come up with another option.

"While the city has again made its application, there is no assurance the grant will be awarded, given the number of applicants and the available funds from the EPA," City Manager Scott Shumard said.

A new door might have opened, however, and that plan started to take shape at the March 20 City Council meeting.

"The mayor and I met with an EPA representative 2 weeks ago, and another idea was brought forth for getting the assessment started," Shumard said.

While the city would still have to find private money locally for most of the work, the Illinois EPA offered help in assessing the environmental hazards at the site.

"They could possibly provide technical assistance, and although we would have to find local funding for much of the work, it could reduce the initial costs enough to get us started," Shumard said.

The IEPA's work would be confined to the exterior of the building, but could include test well drilling and lab testing of samples.

The city was told that a resolution requesting IEPA's help would have to be drawn up and passed by the council before the agency would consider involvement. The council unanimously approved the resolution at its most recent meeting, and it has been sent to the agency.

It will take $100,000 to get the process started at the Lawrence site, and the city doesn't know how much IEPA could contribute.

"This isn't an option we've had before, and although it might not be a lot, it could help bring together our partnerships with groups such as Greater Sterling Development Corporation," Mayor Skip Lee said.

Alderman Joe Martin said the city would be lucky to get $100,000 from IEPA, but it could be enough to jump-start activity at the site.

"Every little bit helps, and it might be enough to give us a better idea of what we're dealing with in there," Martin said.

Martin said the riverfront hotel, followed by other redevelopment projects in Rock Falls, have made Sterling residents a bit more impatient about the blighted buildings on their side of the river.

"I've heard more snide remarks – they see dirt moving over there and they feel that not much is going on here," Martin said.

Martin said people must consider the magnitude of what the city dealt with at the 700-acre Northwestern Steel and Wire site.

"We've had a lot to clean up between the mill, Stanley-National and the Lawrence building," Martin said. "We've gotten so much done at the mill, but you don't just clean all of this up overnight."

During its work at the mill property, Sterling has received $1.4 million to date from the tax increment financing district set up for the site, and a total of $10.8 million in riverfront grants. The $1.3 million state green infrastructure grant given to the city is the largest ever given by the state, and the city also received a $1.5 million EPA brownfields loan.

The work at the mill site also led to the birth of Sterling Steel. Parent company Leggett & Platt invested $38 million in the steel plant, creating 180 jobs.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $42 million will be available nationally this year for its assessment grants and projects that 234 assessment grants will be awarded. Last year, 218 were given out, and only one came to Illinois.