MSI building is "Plan D from inner space"

 by Mike Kroll

On Tuesday night the Knox County Board’s Planning Committee held a special meeting to discuss, what else, the never-ending quest for affordable and suitable office space. All five members of the Planning Committee attended along with fellow board members Lowell Mannhardt, Gerald Link and Dale Parsons plus County Administrator Alan Hallberg and County Zoning Administrator Corby Schmidt, County Supervisor of Assessments Joyce Skinner and Galesburg City Assessor Darrell Lovell. Besides officials and the media only one other person was in attendance, Rob Benedict, president of Mechanical Services, Inc.

At 6pm committee chair Gayle Keiser immediately suggested the committee go promptly into executive session "to discuss real estate" according to the motion by vice-chair Steve Johnson. They then talked for about 45 minutes to an hour before Benedict departed. At about the two-hour mark, Skinner and Lovell left and Hallberg and Schmidt were asked to step out as the committee continued to discuss alternatives for another 35-45 minutes. At approximately 8:45 the committee reconvened in open session and voted unanimously on four motions.

The first motion was to recommend that the County Board hire Larry Skinner to conduct an appraisal of mystery building "D" at a cost not to exceed $800. Next they voted to recommend purchase of the same building "D" to the full County Board, subject to negotiations and the results of the appraisal. Third, they voted to recommend that the County Board approve a special authorization of $150,000 from the indemnity fund to make the initial payment for building "D." And finally, they voted to recommend authorization of a second $12,300 to "pay the balance of the anticipated amount to be owed during the first year. The meeting was then adjourned.

Just last week the full County Board met in special session but failed to approve financing to purchase the Liebovitz Building (121 S. Prairie St.) from Steve Gerstenberger and Joe Mangieri by the required two-thirds majority (9-6) for a total sale price of $330,000 (including the $75,000 trade of the former Army Reserve Center on E. Fremont St.). This building was also discussed once again according to some participants as to possible purchase at a reduced price. Discussion reportedly also took place regarding Gerstenberger and Mangieri’s reported offer to allow the county to continue use of the space on a month-by-month basis after the August 15th expiration of the current lease. Committee members were reportedly incensed that this figure was substantially higher than the already over-market rent currently paid by Knox County.

After the meeting both Keiser and Johnson made it very clear that from their committee’s perspective both the Liebovitz Building and the Chamber of Commerce building on E. Simmons St. are no longer in active consideration.

During the marathon executive session a number of other possibilities were apparently also discussed but none seemed to meet the county’s needs as well as the former car dealership at 185 S. Kellogg St. that today houses Benedict’s business. I spoke with Benedict Wednesday morning where he confirmed that mystery building "D" is indeed the MSI building at the corner of Kellogg and Tompkins streets but the deal also includes the former Wilson Paper building at 160 S. Seminary St.

Benedict’s business has been steadily growing and he acknowledges that MSI is rapidly outgrowing the current facility. When Knox County purchased the former Simpson-Powelson Lumber property (now home to the new Knox County Jail) the county actually outbid MSI for that property a decade ago. The present MSI building was placed into a trust when the First Midwest Trust Company in 1996 purchased it for $102,988 according to City of Galesburg assessment records. "I am not a party to that trust," explained Benedict. "We spend a lot of money to maintain that trust and keep the building at arms length. MSI has a lease here until 2006."

Keiser and Johnson have made it clear that the two primary considerations being evaluated by their committee are the ability to move before the August 15th deadline and availability of at least 14,000–18,000 square feet. "If you want to move all the non-court related offices out of the Courthouse plus consolidate all of the county’s offices in one place that is about the amount of space we’d need," said Johnson.

The MSI building has a total of nearly 20,000 square feet under roof and about 5,600 feet of that is already remodeled into office space for MSI’s needs. The remaining building space has been extensively insulated and updated for use as workshop and storage space including the pouring of a new concrete floor, roof repairs and insulation. All of this space is on a single level and would pose few if any accessibility issues to the county. Lovell’s records indicate that the building was constructed in 1920 but had a "major rehab" in 1958.

A large unpaved (gravel) parking lot sits immediately east of the building and would appear to afford ample parking. One complexity of this is that a good portion of that lot is actually a portion of the former Wilson Paper building whose lot footprint is an L-shape with frontage on both Seminary and Tompkins Streets. For this reason the proposed deal would also include the second building. This building has two garage doors onto Seminary St. and over 6,500 square feet of main floor storage space plus a rear garage door into the aforementioned parking lot. A second floor office area of about 1,000 square feet is also located in the front of this building but decidedly not accessible for Knox County usage.

The market value established for the main MSI building by Lovell (for property tax purposes) is $280,530 and the second building is valued at $73,350 — bringing the approximate total price to $354,000. Both buildings are also located in the city’s enterprise zones. Benedict reports that he has spent significant amounts on the building since MSI was located there and anticipates that when appraised it will come out to be worth more than the above amount. If the Knox County board accepts the committee’s recommendation, Abingdon appraiser Larry Skinner will do an appraisal on the county’s behalf. Benedict says that he has hired Galesburg’s Midwest Appraisal Associates to complete an appraisal on his behalf. Benedict doesn’t expect that appraisal to be completed for at least three weeks.

According to Keiser and Johnson, they expect to use the results of both appraisals as a starting point in negotiating a value for the two properties to be presented to the complete County Board for subsequent approval. While county officials continue to be tight-lipped about the whole deal, Benedict was quite open about what he expects and why he is interested in pursuing this arrangement.

"We have been growing steadily in our businesses and this location has us pretty bottled-up; that’s why I’m interested in negotiating with the county. I know it would be tight from a time perspective but I believe we could make things work so that all the offices now in the Liebovitz Building could be moved into here before the August 15th deadline. I wouldn’t be able to get my guys out of the shop in back by that time but we can relocate the offices, even if we need to do so temporarily while I seek a long-term replacement for this building. It’s no secret that I have been interested in the former Illinois Power building [on Monmouth Boulevard] but the current price on that is simply too high. We are also looking at some other sites that might suit both the current and anticipated needs of MSI."

Benedict says that MSI today employs about 100 workers in Galesburg; approximately 15 of those are in the office space and would need to be relocated to make room for the county. He also volunteered that some 2,000 square feet of space in the adjacent sheet metal shop could also be remodeled in a short time frame as the first stage of expansion for the County offices if needed.

"MSI is not in the real estate business. All we want to do is maintain and improve the efficiencies of the services we offer our customers. We are a local Galesburg business that is committed to this community for the long run and I wanted to create a win-win situation for both the county and MSI. My family and I are rooted in this community and I see this as a great opportunity to reinvest in its future. If I can improve my business while simultaneously helping the County out of a jam everybody comes out ahead."