By M. K. Guetersloh
Efforts by the town of Normal to negotiate the purchase of several downtown properties apparently ended Thursday with the town filing four eminent domain lawsuits in McLean County Circuit Court.
In the lawsuits, the town said it wants to acquire 103 Broadway, 207 S. Fell Ave., 211 and 213 North St., 104 Parkinson St. and 201-203 W. Beaufort St. as part of its downtown redevelopment plan.
"This definitely is last-resort action," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson. "The town certainly does not enjoy doing this, but it's our only remaining step."
Earlier this summer, the city council agreed to use eminent domain powers to get the properties if negotiations failed. Under eminent domain, the town has asked that a judge or jury set the fair market value of the property and compel the owners to sell the property at that price.
"It's not about the money; it's about the land," said one of the owners, Orval Yarger. "I can't replace the land I have for what they want to pay me."
Yarger, his brother, Bill, and Alec Wade have negotiated with the town over the properties they jointly own at 103 Broadway and 211 and 213 North St. The town offered $1.25 million for the properties and rejected the owners' counteroffer of $3 million.
The town and Orval Yarger also could not work out a satisfactory agreement over an exchange in land. A piece of town-owned property Orval Yarger was eyeing for the swap is not for sale.
"What is wrong with this picture?" Yarger said. "The town can tell me that their property is not for sale or that if it was for sale, it would be too expensive, but yet they are telling me I have to sell."
Yarger, who owns the Broadway Mall at 103 Broadway, earlier said the sites the town offered along Main and Willow streets were too far west for his clientele -- Illinois State University students.
A hotel/conference center is planned on land bordered on the west by Fell Avenue, on the south by Beaufort Street, on the east by Broadway and on the north by North Street.
A parking garage is planned at Fell and Beaufort, across from the hotel.
The town owns half of the property but needs to acquire 201-203 W. Beaufort St. from Jeff Brock.
The Yarger property at 103 Broadway would be used as a site to relocate the Citizens Savings Bank branch now at the northwest corner of Broadway and Beaufort.
Peterson said the town already has acquired about 12 properties for the downtown project.
Town attorney Steve Mahrt said it could take six months or more to settle the property dispute.
He said he believed it will be completed ahead of when construction is expected to begin on the hotel/conference center in July 2005.
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