As demolition begins on the Hunter Hillcrest shopping center, DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes says the action shows the City is serious about securing safe living conditions for all residents.
Despite years of efforts by the City to improve conditions at the building through code enforcement measures, the previous owner allowed the business and residential structure on West Hillcrest Drive to fall into disrepair. Undeterred and convinced the conditions were unacceptable for its residents, City officials purchased the building and provided relocation assistance to its tenants so the structure can be razed.
The DeKalb City Council held a special meeting May 9 outside the vacant shopping center to mark the start of demolition. Crews began taking down the building the following morning.
Mayor Barnes said while there are many landlords in the City who care for their tenants and properties, those who do not will not be tolerated and the demolition should send that message.
“If you are going to behave poorly in this community, this is an example going forward of the response you’re going to get from the City of DeKalb – period,” said Barnes. “We’ll go out of our way to make it difficult for you – period. And if we have to tear a building down board by board, brick by brick, it doesn’t matter to eliminate that particular situation in order to create a safe, wonderful community.”
Ceremonial sledgehammers were created for the special meeting with the name of the shopping center’s previous owner, Hunter, printed on the faces. While all but one of the sledgehammers will now be used by Public Works, Barnes said one will hang in City Hall next to the shovels used for recent ceremonial groundbreakings.
“I want to make sure that there’s a sledgehammer now next to those shovels as a constant reminder for myself and for Council right now, but then for future Mayors, Council members, City Managers and City staffs,” said Barnes. “If you’re here to bring benefit to our community, (you will) never find a better partner. But if you’re here to do harm, that is the ultimate recourse that we will have as a City.”
Demolition of the shopping center is the City’s latest investment in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. Once cleared, the shopping center property along with the former site of the long-vacant Campus Cinemas building, which was also demolished by the City, will create an L-shaped site for redevelopment opportunities.
For the special meeting, the Mayor and City Council were joined by former Mayor Jerry Smith, Northern Illinois University Chief of Staff Matt Streb, representatives of Opportunity DeKalb, members of the NIU Greek community, City staff and members of the public.
View more photos from the May 9 special meeting and a video of the demolition on the City of DeKalb Facebook page.