Champaign developer and Monticello native Spencer Atkins has a tentative plan in mind as he remodels the Moore Building across from the Piatt County Courthouse.
But when one discovers things like original marble floors, one becomes flexible.
"This is all the original marble from when they built the building" as a bank in 1925, Atkins pointed out during a walkthrough of the building last Friday. Carpet had covered the colorful flooring since an extensive remodel in the 1970s.
But after some cleanup, repair, and the addition of modern lighting, he is looking forward to the marble being visible again to tenants and customers as they wind their way to five side offices that will be available for rent in the historic downtown Monticello structure.
"We’re going to clean this up, I’m going to put epoxy in little holes, we’re going to put light on this, and it will look almost brand new. We will keep this," he said.
That philosophy – keeping the original glory of the old bank building while updating it with modern safety measures and amenities – is building wide. The architecturally intricate second floor event center ceiling that used to be visible from the bank lobby is staying, along with some of the features of the second floor walls that will be repaired.
At the same time, LED lighting will be installed, enabling those same walls to be bathed in differing colors depending on the event, whether that is school reunions or wedding receptions.
"We’re trying to keep the building that ‘20s look. Kind of like how a plaza would look in New York, or an Allerton building in Chicago. So it has the modern LED lights, everything’s new, everything’s up to date, but there are interesting pieces that I am keeping to try to keep it that old look," he said in leading the Journal-Republican through a tour of the space on March 8.
More than a year into the rehab of the building he purchased from the City of Monticello in 2017, Atkins remains flexible. He has considered both office space and Airbnb lodging for the partial third floor, and at this point is pursuing the latter to go along with the event space.
His first tenant, Christie Clinic, moved into the western half of the ground floor last week, so now Atkins can concentrate on renovations in the remainder of the building, where he already has some interest from some companies seeking office space.
"I’ve got three that are close," he said while walking through the 15,000-square-foot building. But it is hard to finalize leases while the eastern portion of the ground floor is in a "pardon my dust" phase.
One thing that isn’t going anywhere is the 25-ton bank vault, which predates the building itself. A special railway spur brought the behemoth right to the corner of Washington and State streets, where it was installed, then the building went up around it. Atkins has been told blocks of ice helped level the vault as they melted underneath it.
The vault could end up being a conference space if Atkins decides to take out the hundreds of safety deposit boxes that are still in it.
But safety first, since the vault can still be time locked if closed.
"For the 1920s, this was insane," he said, noting that a locksmith told him such safety measures were usually seen only in towns of 250,000 people and more.
"We’ll probably weld it open or throw the bolts, because if you spun the handle and closed it, you would not get out."
Upstairs, work is underway for the 120-person event center, where the original ceiling that was formerly visible from the wide open ground floor of the bank is being kept. A load-bearing floor is now in place to divide the event center from potential first floor tenants.
A partial third floor will house four Airbnb style rooms for those visiting town for weddings, reunions and other gatherings. Atkins’ thought process on that space started with rooms to rent in mind, switched to using it as office space, then migrated back to lodging that will fit into the event room idea.
"If you’re in an office, do you really want to go to a third floor?" he said.
Work also continues on the basement, which could be leased out as storage areas.
Some of the hardest work has included putting in the floor for the event center, and repairing an elevator that had seen enough hydraulic fluid leak to need a new pit and shaft.
His commitment towards keeping architectural integrity have also slowed the progress some.
"It just takes more time. It’s a little harder to mobilize teams and get them going. I think keeping architecture and updating fire safety are big issues," added Atkins, noting that safe areas and two-hour fire walls are part of the renovation work.
At least a portion of the structure housed financial institutions from its construction in 1925 until First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust moved to a newly constructed branch in 2015. The bank then donated the downtown property to the City of Monticello, which in turn sold it in 2017 to Atkins for $181,275.