Local News

McHenry roller rink property destroyed by alleged arson fire could become apartment complex

A Wisconsin-based housing developer is interested in buying the former Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry, which was destroyed in what police say was an arson fire allegedly started by two teenagers earlier this year, city officials confirmed this week.

So far, the developer, Commonwealth Properties, based in Fond du Lac, is looking at building 50 apartments across three stories at the site, 914 Front St., with 16 one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units and 25 three-bedroom units.

Commonwealth sent the city a preliminary sketch of the site on Friday and the company is targeting an Oct. 4 discussion with the McHenry City Council.

That initial conversation with the elected officials will be intended “to gauge interest for multifamily [housing] on the site prior to submitting a Zoning Hearing application,” City Planner Cody Sheriff said. “... The developers haven’t gained control of the property and are still in negotiation with the property owner, so the project might not happen.”

A May 27 fire rendered the building a total loss, causing about $220,000 worth of damage, according to a McHenry Township Fire Protection District report obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The fire was considered suspicious when investigators discovered that a witness had seen two juvenile males running from the building, according to the report. That same witness, said to be a former McHenry police officer, used his vehicle to chase the boys and eventually pursued them on foot to an area near the McHenry Public Library, where he lost sight of them, according to the report.

Police tracking dogs who had picked up a scent, however, continued to search the area.

Days later, two “occupants” questioned by police admitted to starting the fire, according to the report.

Police announced on May 31 that two 14-year-old boys from McHenry were charged in connection with the fire. One of the teens was charged with arson, burglary and criminal damage to property, while the other was faced with a criminal trespass to property allegation, a Class B misdemeanor, according to a news release at the time.

Reached by phone last week, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally declined to comment on the case, citing restrictions about speaking about juvenile matters. Kenneally could not be reached Wednesday for comment regarding the general status of the teenagers’ cases.

The building opened as a dance hall in the 1920s before later being converted into a roller rink. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, took a toll on the business and Just for Fun Roller Rink closed its doors in September 2020.

McHenry County records show the current owner of the property is a trust associated with Aldona B. Cepulis, the proprietor of Just For Fun for more than 47 years, according to her obituary published in the Chicago Tribune in 2002.

Her son, Wade Cepulis, is indicated to be the property owner in the McHenry Township Fire Protection District report. Attempts to reach him and another member of the Cepulis family for comment were unsuccessful.

The city of McHenry in April filed a notice of lien on the property for $1,139.28 over unpaid sewer service bills, McHenry County records show, and the lien was active as of Wednesday.

“There is a multifamily developer working to secure the roller rink property pending an approval from the city, but we really don’t have much information on it,” McHenry Director of Community Development Ross Polerecky said Monday to elected officials.

The developer approached the owner of the property about obtaining the parcel as the city was working with its ownership to get the site cleaned up, Polerecky told to the McHenry City Council.

Commonwealth representatives did not return requests for comment.

Both McHenry’s 1st Ward Alderman Vic Santi and Lisa Duncan, who operated the Just For Fun Roller Rink for 20 years until it closed a year ago, said they hope the site is redeveloped quickly. They were glad to hear of the housing proposal, although the developer has not submitted a formal building application to the city.

“It’s still sitting the way it burned. I can’t even drive by it, it’s so sad. They need to take that down. That’s so depressing,” Duncan said, adding that apartment housing there “would be good for McHenry.”

Before the structure was razed, its exterior had become noticeably worn, but its interior was still “absolutely beautiful,” she said.

“Your hands are tied as to what you can do to a property’s structure you lease,” said Duncan, who along with her husband has run the Just For Fun Roller Rink location in Mundelein since 2012.

The fire wasn’t the only time police were called to the property. Earlier that year, officers received a call from two juveniles who reported entering the building and finding an unconscious person, according to the fire report. It also noted a broken window and graffiti throughout the property.

Santi said he would be open to another commercial use of the property, as well as housing, but wants its redevelopment to occur soon either way.

“I would like to see this move swiftly forward with some type of developer, some type of idea that needs to go through the city process,” Santi said.