The sense of relief is almost palpable, the city now poised to approve a long-awaited catalyst for transforming a major blight into a cornerstone for neighborhood rebirth.
After a long delay, the city and a developer have a tentative deal to move forward on the next $21.1 million phase of the Royster Corners redevelopment on the East Side, including a new home for the Pinney Library.
The city and Ruedebusch Development and Construction have agreements to deliver $820,000 in public support for the next $18 million private phase of the project at the corner of Cottage Grove and Dempsey roads and to buy space there for the new library for $3.1 million.
The multi-phase redevelopment of the 33-acre site, once home to the sprawling Royster-Clark fertilizer plant, was delayed after a cleaned brownfield was recontaminated with dirty fill in 2013, an issue Ruedebusch resolved with the state Department of Natural Resources in March.
“It feels good. It feels, great, actually,” Ruedebusch said of moving forward. “I’m extremely pleased we have been able to negotiate an agreement with the city and look forward to getting the project started.”
Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, who represents the area, said, “The community is excited to finally have an agreement. The four-year period of negotiations have taken so long that it almost feels as though we’re at the end while we’re at the very beginning.”
The agreements still need City Council approval, which could occur this month, and a purchase and sale agreement for the library space must also be finalized this summer, said Natalie Erdman, director of city Planning, Community and Economic Development.
“It’s been a decade of planning for the site,” she said. “I don’t think there are any other approval hurdles. This is a really critical project for the neighborhood.”
The next phase would include 86 apartments, 16,000 square feet of commercial space, 96 underground and 141 surface parking spaces, and a 20,000-square-foot condominium space for the new library.
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Ruedebusch said he hopes to begin construction in September or October.
The mixed-use phase would have two wings connected by an atrium, with the library to be located on the first floor of the west wing. The library space is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.
Library the ‘keystone’
The new library, which would replace a facility roughly half the size now located at 204 Cottage Grove Road, will cost a total $11.7 million, with $9.2 million coming from city borrowing and the rest from private contributions and donations. The cost beyond the $3.1 million for library space is for design, build-out, furnishings and technology.
“I have always believed that the library will be the keystone of Royster Corners and that Royster Corners will serve as a new center of activity and renewal for the East Side,” Ahrens said.
The agreement for $820,000 in city tax incremental financing (TIF) support requires Ruedebusch to complete construction on the phase by March 30, 2019. The TIF support represents 25 percent of the tax revenue generated by the project, well under the 55 percent threshold for special review in the city’s TIF policy, and should be repaid in about six years.
Since 2013, Ruedebusch and the DNR have worked on plans to remove or cap the problematic soil. In 2015, Ruedebusch got DNR permission to move some fill from part of the site to another area of the property to allow construction of a three-story, 71-unit apartment building by Stone House Development/Movin’ Out, which opened in 2016 and stands alone on the otherwise vacant site.
Also on tap
The mixed-use/library phase would be followed by:
- A $10 million to $12 million phase with 102 apartments and 10,000 square feet of commercial space.
- A $3.5 million, market-driven phase with 6,000 square feet of commercial space, possibly for a medical use.
- A $5 million to $6 million phase with up to 40,000 square feet of commercial space.
- Forty-one single-family home lots now being marketed for sale at the northwestern corner of the property.
- A $4.5 million phase with 33 units of apartments.
Built in the 1940s, Royster-Clark produced and mixed granulated fertilizer. In 2006, Agrium U.S. Inc. acquired the holdings and closed the plant. Ruedebusch acquired the site from Agrium in August 2011. The plant was demolished and the site initially remediated in late 2011 and early 2012. City approvals to begin building were secured by late 2013.