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Thursday, March 8, 2012 03:52 am

Bullish on Springfield

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The Bressmer building on East Adams Street has been vacant since 2010.

Christopher Stone bets big.

A newcomer to the real-estate game, the Springfield lobbyist heads a group of investors that has bought up some big chunks of fallow real-estate in recent months, including the vacant Bressmer building on the 600 block of Adams Street.

In addition to the Bressmer building, Stone’s group has also purchased the Iles Park Place complex at South Sixth and Ash streets that includes five buildings, all empty, and a building at 525 W. Jefferson Ave. now occupied by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Some people think I’m crazy,” Stone says. “Some people think it’s great and really wish they had the ability to do what I’m doing.”

The price of the Bressmer building isn’t a matter of public record, but files in the Sangamon County recorder’s office show that a sales agreement was reached last fall and the property was deeded to Stone’s group in lieu of foreclosure in January. County records show that Stone and his partners obtained mortgages totaling $3.76 million for the Department of Public Health building and the Iles Park Place property, which includes a parcel that was once home to a restaurant that the partnership has demolished. Records show an additional $1.65 million mortgage for the health building, the parcel that once had the restaurant and two parcels in St. Clair County.

“We think it’s a good time to buy property,” says Stone, whose lobbying firm represents more than three dozen clients ranging from the Illinois State Board of Investment to Ameren to five municipalities. “Property pricing is substantially depressed, so we think that the value’s only going to go up. We think there are tremendous possibilities to locate business in Adams and Park Place.”

Records in the recorder’s office show that Stone’s group obtained the Bressmer building pursuant to a sales agreement reached last fall, with title transferring in January. Under the terms of the previous mortgage, the former owner was obligated to use Pacific Management, a firm once owned by Springfield powerbroker Bill Cellini, to manage the property. That requirement remains in place, Stone said. Pacific Management is now owned by Cellini’s son and daughter.

Some legislators are concerned about building management deals involving Cellini and his family, and legislation is pending that could require building owners to reveal how much building managers are paid for running state-leased buildings. Convicted on federal corruption charges in November, Cellini is awaiting sentencing.

Noting that Pacific Management is not owned by Cellini, Stone says that he isn’t concerned that the company’s continued role in managing the Bressmer building could hurt prospects for landing a state lease. He said the company did everything right in maintaining the building after it was vacated in 2010 by the state Department of Children and Family Services and the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“That’s one of the reasons we bought the building, it was in such great shape,” said Stone, who praises Cellini as a person who’s done a lot for Springfield. “We could have bought the Pacific Management contract out, but we chose not to do that.”

Stone says he expects to spend at least $2 million on improvements to the Bressmer building and a similar amount on the Jefferson Avenue building, which the state is leasing for $13.50 per square foot, which adds up to $1.7 million per year. He said he plans on spending as much as $5 million on Iles Park Place. He said that he and his partners are looking at another investment, but he declined to give any details other than it will be located both inside and outside the city and will create as many as 280 jobs.

“We have two parameters: It has to be paid off in five years, and we pay no more than 35 cents on the dollar,” Stone said.

Stone, who hopes to have all the properties leased or sold within two years, chuckled at the suggestion he’s a bottom feeder.

“I’m not going to say bottom feeder – I’m taking advantage of the current economic situation,” Stone said.

The partnership includes Martin Hubbard, who owns a Belleville construction company, but Stone wouldn’t identify other partners. Victoria Ringer, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., said that she knows at least one.

“Chris and his partners that I’m aware of are very economically aware,” Ringer said. “They’re really bright guys. They’re not millionaires, but they’ve been working in state government for a long time and they know the capital city.”

Ringer said she’s optimistic and hopes that comptroller Judy Baar Topinka will move her offices to the Bressmer building.

“I think it can be really, really big,” Ringer said. “I like to think they have their pulse on what’s coming down the pike, maybe moreso than some of us.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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