By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
It looked like one of the best chances for the renovation of what many described as an eyesore.
At its Aug. 26 meeting, the Quincy City Council agreed to enter into negotiations with Frantz-Hobart Community Investors of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in hopes of revitalizing the long-vacant Newcomb Hotel.
Now, there is nothing left to renovate after a five-alarm fire tore through the building Friday evening.
The city was in the process of foreclosing on the building, which is owned by developer Victor Horowitz, and had hoped to line up a new developer immediately.
Negotiations were set to start this week, with a meeting between the city and Frantz-Hobart scheduled for Tuesday.
"The bottom line is the fire capped it last night, and the building was damaged to the point of no return," said Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning and development.
Travis Brown, executive director of the Historic Quincy Business District, said he spoke with one of the Frantz-Hobart partners Saturday.
"He seemed genuinely more concerned for our community," he said. "He just reiterated he knows how much of a loss that is for any community to suffer."
Frantz-Hobart discovered the building during the Illinois Main Street Conference that was in Quincy last September. The developer hoped to renovate the building into market-rate apartments on the second through fifth floors and into commercial space on the first floor.
Redevelopment of the five-story Newcomb hit nothing but speed bumps over the past three decades.
A long line of owners and developers were unable to rehab the 77,500-square-foot building, which had stood empty for 30 years.
Real estate agent and developer Bob Mays bought the building for $287,500 in 1983. He sold it in 1988 to Rappaport Inc. of Minnesota, which planned to develop the property as a senior housing project. When the company ran into financial difficulties, the Westin Financial Group bought the Quincy landmark and soon transferred ownership to its construction division, American Reality Constructors. Ownership of the building then was transferred to Historical Housing for Senior II in California.
Rezmar bought the Newcomb in 1996 for $1.2 million, but while some work was started inside, it was never completed.
A $14 million to $15 million plan to develop the hotel into an assisted-living center fell through at the last minute in 2011 when Skokie-based 3 Diamond Development could not guarantee the financial return for potential investors and pulled out of the deal.
"We thought we turned the page a couple times on the Newcomb," Bevelheimer said.
Horowitz bought the building for $550,000 in 2003 from Rezmar and planned to develop it into an assisted-living center.
The Revolving Loan Committee provided Horowitz with a $500,000 loan in December 2003, and the Adams County Revolving Loan Committee provided an additional $50,000. Property taxes have been paid by the Revolving Loan Committee for the past two years, and the committee also covered overdue taxes for 2008 and 2009.
Court documents showed that as of June 30, Horowitz owed $525,932 in principal, interest, service fees and property taxes paid by the city. The county loan has a balance of $49,640.
The city had threatened Horowitz with foreclosure, and the Quincy Revolving Loan Committee on Jan. 31 recommended the city accept the deed to the building instead. However, the city discovered a $116,000 lien had been placed on the property by HG Contracting of Skokie for money owed for work it said was completed.
The city also is embroiled in another court case concerning the Newcomb. The city and the owner of the hotel were scheduled to be in court Sept. 16 over the condition of the building. The city cited Newcomb Realty LLC on April 26 for maintaining a unsafe structure after a three-story section had collapsed in part nine days earlier.
The court could issue fines of up to $500 a day until the structure is deemed safe, though that now may be a moot point.
What will happen to the Newcomb Hotel property, 400 Maine, after it's cleared wasn't a high priority Saturday as the building remained standing in a fragile state.
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said there has been no talk.
"Right now, we're just worried about the safety of the building and the safety of the structure and the people around there," he said. "So we'll talk about that once they get the structure down."
The property remains in litigation after the city filed to foreclose in July over the failure of owner Victor Horowitz to pay off a $500,000 loan he received from the city in 2003.
Travis Brown, executive director of the Historic Quincy Business District, said he's not committed to anything going there.
"Those will be discussions that we'll start pushing forward, basically as soon as the streets open," he said. "Obviously, it is going to be months down the road before anything happens, because of the legal issues. As soon as we're in a position, we want to move forward. We don't want to see it just sitting."
Brown said the only thing he would prefer not to see is a parking lot, citing the parking lot across the street next to the Gardner Museum.
"I'm sure the city will try to get some public input of some sort," he said.