CANTON, ILLINOIS — What was once blighted is now a showpiece of the Canton downtown.
On Friday, the historic 1883 Randolph Building was showcased to the public at an open house after being completely renovated by Canton native Bill Cook. Cook traveled to Canton for the open house and said as he looked outside, he could see it was raining and people walking on the square. The town really has not changed. A tornado struck years ago, but the town and the people are still here. When he comes back to the Canton, he looks for the people — the crowds — and they always seem to be here.
He joked about renting apartments upstairs so payments for the building can be made, and he will be glad to take the rent money. He added, more seriously, “I’m so happy we could do this in a way that could develop it in time.” He stressed time was taken as needed to provide the kind of facility desired — a place with ambiance. He noted flowers are not up yet, but bulbs have been planted. Flowers and shrubbery and trees all help to be a part of that ambiance “we are a part of,” he said.
He thanked the Cook staff, local officials and others who spoke before him and introduced him. He talked about building a hotel at Main and Locust streets. Cook said the town needs more hotels and motels. It can be like Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives and bases his business — a place full of people walking down streets, full of ambiance. Maybe people from Springfield would be more apt to come here.
“I’m going to do the best job we can to do some more expanding. If you think the rents are outrageous, wait ’til we really get started,” Cook said, drawing laughter. According to Jim Murphy, who is president of CFC Properties, (a Bill Cook enterprise) and in charge of the Randolph Building project and several other Cook Canton projects, the renovation provides retail spaces, condominium living, and more.
The Randolph building’s three floors are divided into retail suites on the main level, apartments on the upper level, and storage on the lower level. The adjoining building was attached to the Randolph building via openings through the brick wall. That renovation offers retail space on the main level and an apartment on the upper level. The buildings are served by a large elevator located at the back of the buildings.
Murphy calls the buildings “architecturally significant” structures, and explains, “This is a great opportunity to expand into other markets (in addition to Cook’s home territory in Bloomington, Indiana) doing what CFC does best, restoring older structures in a manner that preserves the past and enhances the character of the community.” The Randolph Building, said Murphy, was both architecturally and historically significant, noting the building was over 100 years old. A timeline on display showed the different owners and uses of the property, the first of which was Messer’s Day Brother’s & Co.
“The renovation has gone very well,” Murphy said. “We started June 4, 2008, and we are here today, less than one year later. We are very happy.” Murphy described some of the challenges faced by renovation crews. He noted the basement was filled with water and the roof leaked from the second floor through to the main floor. He said there were spots on the second floor which posed safety problems because the wood had rotted away.
“We carted 57 square yards of rubbish from the interior to the dumpsters,” said Murphy, “all by hand.” The outside of the building was less difficult since, as Murphy noted, most of the structure was still intact. The company looked at historic photos to guide their work and, with a new roof, new windows, and some tuckpointing, came close to restoring the site to its original architecture. Everything on the interior is brand new, Murphy said. Murphy went on to add all four upstairs apartments, three in the Randolph Building and one in the adjacent building, have been rented. All four apartments have washers and dryers, and one is a fully-furnished corporate apartment. “It has the linens, the utensils, everything,” he remarked. “All you need is your suitcase.”
Storage space for all four apartments is also available in the basement area, along with storage for any businesses which may rent the ground floor space.
Murphy said he hoped the downstairs would be rented by retail customers, noting they could get spaces of up to 3,000 square feet or, by partitioning off areas, 1,500 square feet. “The building is now ready for another 100 years,” Murphy said. “This project goes right along with our policy of new use for architecturally significant structures. This will ignite energy into downtown Canton, and we are excited about the possibilities.”
Canton Mayor Kevin Meade called this an exciting time for Canton. “I think it is tremendously exciting to see this kind of development happening on the Square. The flood gates have opened.” Meade remembers that Canton officials have been working toward this kind of progress for a long time. Kert Huber (a Peoria developer) renovated the Historic Opera House, former Bradley Basketball Coach and now Fulton County resident Dick Versace renovated the Knepps Building on the Canton Square, and many others have built or renovated businesses.
Meade expects to see a lot more happening and says the city is now reaping the benefits of all of this hard work. Meade explains that all of Cook’s projects are of the highest quality, which helps the city set a standard for future development. “This is just the beginning of great things, and people are showing support for all these efforts,” emphasizes Meade.
Dennis Crawford, president of Canton Main Street, said he wanted to thank the Cook family for taking the lead in the town’s revitalization. The Main Street program is about restoration, preservation, new development, facade improvements and streetscapes, and special events, and Canton Main Street will be an aggressive and forward-thinking partner to make the community a better place, he said.
Mark Rothert, executive director of Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development, gave the welcome. He noted Canton was founded in 1825, and said this project helps add to the town’s rich history. He said the site of the old Drow Hardware Store on the square will be developed in September, and facade grants for downtown building improvements will help “restore downtown Canton as a center of Canton.”
The Randolph Building project was done under the direction of Cook’s lead architect George Ridgway and general contractor Pritchett Brothers Construction of Bedford, Ind. Greg Blum served as the engineer for the project. “It is truly a community project. It was your participation as well,” Murphy said.