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Site of defunct Midwest Natural History Museum in Sycamore could see new life as event space

SYCAMORE – A Sycamore city commission is giving its go-ahead to move forward with a proposal to turn the vacant former Midwest Museum of Natural History into an event center and banquet hall.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted, 9-0, Monday to recommend the Sycamore City Council approve a zoning request by State Street Ventures, LLC for the building at 425 W. State St., which would pave the way for it to be used for hospitality.

The address was the home of the Midwest Museum of Natural History until the establishment closed in 2020, according to city documents released ahead of Monday’s meeting.

“Currently, it’s institutional, it’s zoned as institutional which means schools, the city or the parks or something like that – everybody knows it used to be a museum,” Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall said. “So tonight it’s really consideration about the change of zoning, not necessarily about what’s going in there.”

The area around the former museum is almost entirely commercial use, and the current building’s zoning tightly limits what can be done in the space, Hall said, spurring city consideration to change the permit’s use for future development.

Sycamore Park District Commissioner Ted Strack said he understood the commission was only voting on the recommendation of a zoning change but had an aside about the cohesiveness of Sycamore’s downtown area. He said it’s important for the community to maintain a certain feel.

“What I mean by that, having structures that fit with the rest of downtown,” Strack said. “Now we know we can’t control that necessarily, they can put up whatever they want, theoretically – within some limits – but I hope they would take that into consideration if they’re going to replace the building in some fashion.

“Because I think otherwise you start, the downtown will start deteriorating in terms of appeal, and I really hope we don’t do that. So that’s just an editorial comment, we can’t control it from a zoning perspective, I understand,” Strack said.

Brad Rubeck – owner of 407 W. State St., which sits on the corner of California and West State streets in downtown Sycamore – said he had concerns about the parking for any future businesses at the building because he had a verbal agreement to allow visitors of the now defunct museum to park in his parking lot.

“We had a handshake agreement at that time and whenever they wanted to use our parking lot they could,” Rubeck said. “Our parking lot cuts right up to the building there so they’ve got no access on either side or anything else. I’m not necessarily opposed to the change in zoning, I just wanted to express my concerns.”

Rubeck said as of late he hasn’t enforced the parking there because he wants to be friendly about the matter.

Commission chairman Bill Davey said Rubeck’s concern didn’t apply at the time because only the matter of re-zoning the property was on the agenda, not what would be done with the building. He did, however say he understand’s Rubeck’s question about the matter.

“My big concern is that I have nine apartments upstairs. I have office suites down below,” Rubeck said. “I just want to make sure that I can maintain my parking in a situation that will allow for and not spend my day, you know, towing cars away or anything of that sort. I don’t think that plays in anybody’s favor.”

The Sycamore City Council is expected to take up the development proposal at a future meeting.