CFC Celebrates 40th Year of Building ‘Community’ in Bloomington

View from College Avenue, facing northwest, capturing the Uptown Plaza and Graham Plaza – only two of the many buildings CFC has renovated.
View from College Avenue, facing northwest, capturing the Uptown Plaza and Graham Plaza.

By Rick Seltzer
Friday, November 1, 2013

CFC Properties owns more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space, much of it in prominent downtown Bloomington buildings the company renovated itself.

It has 650 apartments and co-owns about 1,200 more. It has a 40-room inn in Bloomington, and it’s been running the Yoho General Store in Solsberry since December 2012.

That’s not a bad collection, even for a four-decade portfolio. CFC is celebrating its 40th year in existence.

“We try to do things that impact a lot of people,” said Steve Ferguson, chairman of CFC’s parent company, Bloomington-based Cook Group. “We try to engage and help the community where other people can’t in what would be impact projects.”

But CFC didn’t start out as a developer. It was actually founded in 1973 as CFC Inc. — Cook Financial Corp. The company was set up to make loans to employees of the Bloomington medical device manufacturer Cook Inc.

As other lenders became more available in Bloomington, CFC’s loan business tapered off, according to Ferguson. And the company moved into development, eventually changing its name to the more descriptive CFC Properties.

Early purchases came between 1974 and 1976, when CFC acquired the Grant Apartments, Canadian Apartments, Northwoods acreage and 411 E. 10th St. Then in 1976, CFC restored its first property, the James Cochran House on North Rogers Street.

“It’s a symbolic structure,” Ferguson said. “It’s symbolic because the thing you would hear is, ‘I can’t locate west of the tracks.’ There was sort of a divide.”

Major Bloomington properties crowned CFC’s history after that. Graham Plaza, the former Illinois Central Railroad Freight Depot on North Morton Street, The Johnson Building, Uptown Plaza, Fountain Square, One City Centre, Showers Plaza, and the Wicks building.

CFC also bought and held property for the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center until the Monroe County Convention Center Building Corp. could acquire it in 1991. And CFC has been involved in plenty of residential space, from the low-income Bicycle Apartments to Lincoln Place Condominiums to the Kirkwood luxury apartments.

Ferguson and Cook Group founder, Bill Cook, used to keep an eye out for ideas about how to improve downtown Bloomington.

“We’d walk wherever we were,” Ferguson said. “If we were in England, we’d walk. If we were in Australia, we’d walk. If we were in Evanston, Ill., we’d walk, and we’d look at what made communities successful. The most important fact was the fact that they were lived in.”

Events can also be important in building a successful community, according to CFC President Jim Murphy. That can be bringing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, or it can be the annual Canopy of Lights around the courthouse.

“CFC is wrapping the trees,” Murphy said. “What it does is it brings people downtown on the first Friday after Thanksgiving. There are thousands of people. It’s creating that habit of coming downtown.”

The property company’s 40th year technically started in August. But CFC refrained from marking the occasion at the time because it was involved in another anniversary: Its parent company, Cook Group, was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Cook Group has been conducting events at its locations around the globe to mark its 50 years. Cook just finished its Australia celebration in October.

It has one more 50th-anniversary celebration to go, according to Ferguson. Cook subsidiary French Lick Resort will celebrate in November. Cook Group’s Bloomington celebration took place in August, and it included CFC, which has 80 of its own employees.

In the future, CFC wants to continue to do what’s necessary to promote downtown, according to Murphy. He also said CFC could get involved in the city of Bloomington’s 65-acre certified technology park. That land is nearly at the door of CFC’s headquarters in the Showers Building.

Murphy also alluded to some sort of mixed-use project and adding housing to downtown.

“I can see us potentially adding housing — not student housing,” he said. “Not something that’s already here today.”