No sale: Deadline for sale of Harvard’s former Motorola campus passes without closing

‘We did everything within our power to help bring it to close and help support the buyer in whatever they needed,’ Harvard mayor says

The deadline has passed for a Canadian data center to close on Harvard’s former Motorola campus, leaving local officials with unanswered questions about the future of the property’s ownership.

Canada-based Green Data Real Estate Inc. was in the process of buying the 303-acre space that formerly housed a Motorola manufacturing and distribution site. On Tuesday, however, Harvard City Mayor Michael Kelly announced that Green Data hadn’t closed on the property by Monday’s deadline.

Kelly said he remained under the impression Tuesday evening that the Canadian business still hopes to purchase the space.

Green Data CEO Jason Bak declined to comment, saying that he could not immediately provide details about the transaction.

More information could become available this coming Tuesday when attorneys are scheduled to appear via Zoom for a McHenry County court hearing regarding the property.

“We did everything within our power to help bring it to close and help support the buyer in whatever they needed,” Kelly said. “In the end, we just kind of sit back and wait just like everybody else.”

Green Data’s plan for the campus included using about 400,000 of the available 1.5 million square feet of building space for a solar-powered data hub. The majority of the site’s buildings would be put to use as office or industrial space for technology businesses.

Bak has said the site is large enough and outfitted in a way that can host a solar power generation component. Other potential uses could be in higher demand soon, with the maturation of markets for cryptocurrencies and cannabis, which, like data storage, require massive amounts of energy to produce.

City officials had remained “optimistic but cautious,” after watching the potentially lucrative campus lay vacant for the better part of two decades.

Orders tied to a Canadian criminal case against the most recent owner, Xiao Hua “Edward” Gong, previously prevented new businesses from moving into the space. Those restrictions have since been lifted, allowing for a bidding process through the U.S. Marshals Service.

“We recognize that (the marshal’s service) ha(s) treaty obligations with Canada, and they’re under some form of federal law,” McHenry County Economic Development Corporation President Jim McConoughey said. “But at some point, they have to look out for the community and look out for the interested people in McHenry County.”

Vacant for 18 years, parts of the campus have begun to deteriorate, along with an attached local historical landmark, the William H. Coventry House. Repairs needed to bring the campus within health and safety guidelines include extensive mold remediation and the installation of a new sprinkler system. Those basic rehabilitative tasks could cost an estimated $12 million, Bak has said.

Although it was unclear Tuesday why closing on the property hasn’t yet been finalized, the sheer financial responsibility that comes with the campus could be a factor, Harvard Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Charlie Eldredge said.

“What concerns me is if they don’t have the money to buy the building, are they going to have the money to remediate the condition of the building if they do buy it?” Eldredge said.

Green Data is exploring financial support through tax increment financing, or TIF, districts; clean energy programs; job creation incentives; and other state and federal funding options, Bak said at a June 9 Harvard Ordinance Committee.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday how far the company has come in securing those funds.

Harvard officials hope to learn more next week about the sale process moving forward.

“We have a zombie offer on the table, and we don’t know what else is going on,” Eldredge said.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.