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State agency seeks input on downtown building

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 1:42 p.m. CDT

A state agency is seeking input from Oregon residents and groups about the future of a downtown building.

Anne Haaker, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, said Tuesday that the IHPA will make a decision sometime this month about whether or not the now-vacant Bemis Ford building should be preserved.

The IHPA was informed recently by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that Harvard State Bank, which owns the Community Bank of Oregon, is purchasing the Bemis building and wants to demolish it to build a new bank there.

The FDIC notified the IHPA because the Bemis building is within the historic district in downtown Oregon that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lisa DiChiera, Director of Advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, said FDIC officials asked bank officials if the current building could be used for the new facility rather than demolished. 

However, bank officials said no, she said.

"If there are locals who don't want to see this building come down, Landmarks Illinois will advocate," DiChiera said. "If there's no sense of local support for this building, we aren't going to take the time."

Bank officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Paul Curran, Vice President Commercial Consumer Ag Lender at Community Bank of Oregon, referred questions to Harvard State Bank President Roger Lehman.

A spokesperson at Harvard State Bank said Lehman was out of the office until Friday.

DiChiera said a bigger concern is what will happen to the current bank building at the intersection of Ill. 64 and Ill. 2 in the downtown.

"This is the time for city officials to see what the bank's plan is to market or reuse the building they're in now," she said.

Urban planner Alice Novak said the Bemis building is a significant part of the historic district.

She was hired as a consultant to prepare the national register nomination for the downtown, 

"It was included, even though it's less than 50 years old because it showed the impressive continuity of how downtown Oregon has been used," she said.

Most communities do not save building from the 1950s and 60s.

She said the site's connection to a nearby livery stable shows the continuity of transportation in that area of the downtown.

"Oregon was a fascinating place to me," she said. "It packs a lot of history into a small area."

Novak said communities should think carefully before demolishing any building.

"With the economic downturn, historical preservation becomes an even more important piece of economic recovery," she said. "I think communities need to be careful in destroying the things that make them really unique. If a place like Oregon tears down historically significant things, like the unicorn in the 'Glass Menagerie,' they're just like everybody else."

Haaker said local people who wish to comment should send in their comments soon.

"We do want to know what people in Oregon think," she said. "We will be making a decision soon."

She said the IHPA is seeking input from the Oregon City Council, Oregon Historical Preservation Commission, Oregon Chamber of Commerce, as well as citizens.

Comments can be emailed to HPA.projectsbox@illinois.gov or mailed to Anne Haaker, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield IL 62701.

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