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Thursday, May 5, 2016 12:09 am

City aims to demolish historic Ridgely village hall

Owner wants community garden instead

Jeremy Mann stands in front of the 1885 building he’s trying to save on Peoria Road in August 2015.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

 

A historic building on Springfield’s north end faces demolition, but the owner is fighting to keep the structure standing and turn it into a hydroponic community garden.

The situation pits preservation efforts against the city’s efforts to mitigate blight. The case is pending in Sangamon County Court, where the owner is attempting to overturn an earlier order for demolition.

Jeremy Mann of Springfield owns the building at 1901 Elizabeth Street, just off Peoria Road, through his nonprofit, the Ponics Project. The name reflects the hydroponic aspect of his proposed community garden.

The building has served several roles in its 131-year life. It used to be a counseling center for drunk drivers, a real estate office, a liquor store and more, but its earliest function was as town hall and jail for the village of Ridgely. The village was established in 1883 around the Springfield Iron Co., a prosperous manufacturer at the time.

The village built its hall in 1885, and that building is now the one the City of Springfield is trying to demolish. Ridgely was annexed into the City of Springfield in 1907 – a couple of years after the Springfield Iron Co.’s successor folded – and Mann’s building became a Springfield fire station.

Mann has hopes of creating a hydroponic community garden on the property and using the building – after renovations – as a community center and farmers market. He began renting the building in late 2014, before he knew its history. At the time, the building was clad in heavily weathered white siding, which concealed the original brickwork for many years. Mann removed the siding as part of a renovation and became enamored with the building and its history. Mann bought the building in December 2014.

When Illinois Times toured the building in August 2015, Mann had uncovered several items of historical interest in it, including artifacts in the hay loft and former carriage house on the building’s north side, as well as what he believes is the original jail window with bars still in place.

In November 2015, the City of Springfield filed a lawsuit against the Ponics Project and the estate of the deceased previous owners, Al and Virginia Penman, seeking to have the building torn down. The lawsuit describes the building as having wet rot in the rafters at the southwest corner, bricks removed around doors and windows in load-bearing walls, and a “compromised” steel beam in the roof making the front of the building unstable.

On March 1 this year Sangamon County Associate Judge Rudy Braud granted a default judgment against the estate and the Ponics Project, allowing the city to tear down the property if Mann doesn’t do it himself within 45 days.

That time window would have lapsed on April 15, but Mann filed a motion on March 31 to rehear the case. Springfield attorney and former alderman Sam Cahnman represents Mann in the case. Cahnman believes the demolition order should be voided because he asserts that Mann wasn’t properly served with notice of the lawsuit. He alleges the city failed to serve notice to the nonprofit corporation’s registered agent, which is Mann. Court files show the city served notice to Mann’s domestic partner, who was not a registered agent of the corporation at the time.

At a short hearing on April 26, assistant corporation counsel Krista Appenzeller told Braud that time is of the essence in the case because the building is dangerous and “falling on the sidewalk.” Mann disputes that description.

Braud held a follow-up hearing on May 4, at which Cahnman argued that the city failed to serve proper notice of the lawsuit to Mann or his nonprofit for several reasons. Appenzeller argued that the city based its efforts on what it considered the best information available at the time.

Braud told the parties he would make a decision by the end of the work week.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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