DeKalb-based developer wants to turn former Fourth Street city hall into corporate suites

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DeKALB – DeKalb-based developer Jim Mason is throwing his hat in the ring to buy the currently vacated DeKalb Municipal Building, which formerly housed City Hall, and turn it into corporate suites.

He said his proposal won’t demolish the building, 200 S. Fourth St., which city officials have said is their preference because of the age of the building and upkeep needed to maintain it.

“I’ve offered to buy City Hall. There’s three requests for proposals,” Mason said, adding the other two include plans to demolish the building. “I’m proposing to not tear it down but to turn it into Mason Corporate Suites. That means we’d be renting it out to professionals. The first and second floor. I’m proposing to let city council use the old council chambers as is.”

DeKalb’s government buildings were moved downtown in May, to the former First National Bank known as the Nehring building, 164 E. Lincoln Highway, and the City Council currently meets in the Yusunas Room in the basement of the DeKalb Public Library.

The city at the beginning of July opened the bid for developers to solicit interest in the property, which they hope to sell by the end of the year. City Manager Bill Nicklas has said he intends to use funds from the municipal building's sale to pay to outfit DeKalb police officers with body cameras, projected to cost about $150,000 annually.

The City Council is expected to vote on RFPs for the municipal building in August.

Mason said he believes the other bidders intend to tear the old building down.

“If I don’t prevail, I think the other people will tear it down,” Mason said. “But I would like the citizens of DeKalb and City Hall to work with Jim Mason. That’s the plan. Save City Hall, use it as is but tweak it. It’s going to cost me money, but it’ll take me two years to rent up. I’m alerting the state that northern Illinois is open for business.”

He said his plans would include the 51,000-square-foot lot to the east of the building, where he’d build 11 townhomes.

“I’d rent up Mason Corporate Suites to doctors, lawyers, you name it,” he said.

The former City Hall is not being marketed as a packaged property as formerly discussed by the council, although the city owns the entire block, from Grove Street to the north, South Fifth Street to the east, Franklin Street to the south and South Fourth Street to the west. The municipal building, built in 1967 at the corner of Grove and Fourth streets, is three floors, with about 12,000 square feet per floor.

A 2013 building assessment for the municipal building identified a number of issues with the space, including the roof system, heating and air-conditioning systems, exterior precast walls, windows and doors, Nicklas has said. The bathrooms also are not Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. The DeKalb Police Department moved out of the space in 2013.

The municipal building lies within a tax increment finance district known as TIF 3, and developers are being asked to consider the purchase and redevelopment of the site for the purpose of returning the 2.5 acres to the city’s tax rolls.

Mason said there would be some TIF-eligible work done in his proposal.

“Basically, the building is sounder than a gold bar,” Mason said. “I’d be upgrading the HVAC, heating and ventilating. There’s some TIF money involved here to take care of deferred maintenance.”