Canton Improvement Plans – New Hotel & More

Randolph building interior renovation – building has been nearly gutted.
Randolph building renovation work.

CANTON, ILLINOIS — Plans to build a “boutique” hotel near the southwest corner of Main and Locust streets in Canton, to improve the landscape at Fulton Square Mall and to enhance the appearance of those and other properties owned by Bill Cook in Canton were discussed Friday by a real estate manager for Cook.

Jim Murphy, president of CFC, Inc. which is a Cook Industries real estate management company, said a hotel is planned to be built where two buildings owned by Cook were recently torn down. It will not be a brand-name facility but a “boutique hotel owned and operated by Cook,” said Murphy.

He said the hotel was still in the design phase, and it would be premature to comment on the size it would be or how many floors it would have. He did say the project represented an expansion to Cook’s hostelry business. Although Cook is perhaps best known for his success in making and selling medical devices, his interest in restoring historic buildings and leasing space in them is evident with local projects such as the Randolph Building and Lewis Pharmacy properties.

Also, Murphy noted in Bloomington, Indiana, where Cook Industries is based, was a historic downtown building Cook wanted to save. He relocated it to another downtown area, adjacent to other property he owned, and converted it to a bed-and-breakfast facility. It was expanded and now features 24 rooms. It is named the Grant Street Inn.

Cook also restored a historic hotel in French Lick, Indiana. It now features 442 rooms along with a casino and is named French Lick Springs Resort, said Murphy. The project is noted in a book about Cook, “The Story of Bill Cook.” A picture of it in the book illustrates ornate features of the resort.

The Canton hotel project is contingent upon acquiring the city-owned parking lot at the southwest corner of Main and Locust. Without it, there would not be enough property to develop, Murphy said. Mayor Kevin Meade said the parking lot, like all city-owned property, will be offered for sale to the public. Proposals will be sought, and it will be up to the city council to select the best one. Meade added it would be hard to imagine a better-proposed use for the parking lot than the hotel, especially since Cook owns the adjacent property to the south. The hotel possibility has been discussed in the past by city officials, Meade said.

In addition to roof repairs and tuckpointing at the JCPenney store at Fulton Square Mall recently discussed by Murphy, several landscape improvements are planned in the area “to enhance the arrival experience,” he said. The Curves business will be relocated, and “tree pods” will be planted in areas of the parking lot. A fountain on the south lawn of the mall will be provided as well.
Those landscaping changes will “give relief to the blank wall facing Main” Street, he said.

Murphy added when the tuckpointing work is complete, exterior painting of the Penney’s store will begin, weather permitting. Spoon River College art teacher Tracy Snowman assisted with the selection of paint. Bill Cook selected the color for which to start the project. “We added other colors to complement his choice,” Murphy said. He added Snowman is involved in an ongoing project to create four murals to adorn the south side of the Penney’s building which faces the square.

Each mural features a historic scene of downtown Canton. They include an east view of the former Canton Stationery and Ben Franklin stores on the north side of the square, west view of the north side of the square from the corner of First Avenue and Chestnut Street, the old Randolph Building on the east side of the square, and Lewis Pharmacy in a south view of Main Street.

“We hope to have the first mural up by the first of December,” Murphy said. All four murals are hoped to be completed by January or February, he said. He said the esthetic improvements are intended to attract people to stay downtown in a friendly business environment with “more activity, more people, more commerce.” Asked about plans for the Goodwill store building, Murphy said it will stay in place. He referred to the mayor questions about reopening the north side of the square to vehicle traffic.” It’s helpful for the flow of traffic to open that up,” Meade said. “The city intends to open up a driving lane. We’ll explore the engineering possibilities.” He added perhaps two lanes will be possible, but studies will be needed to determine what is possible. He said engineer Keith Plavec of Maurer-Stutz Inc. has been asked to “dust off” some old studies and look further into the proposal, and new traffic studies will need to be conducted.

In regard to other Cook projects, Murphy said the old Lewis Pharmacy property is being studied to verify dimensions for the floor plan and size of rooms. Then new room sizes will be determined and decisions made on adding or moving walls. “We’ll preserve what’s there. Actually, the exterior is in good shape for the most part. The pharmacy will be cleaned up and stay as it is,” he said. He explained the first floor will be used for retail purposes and the second floor for offices. An elevator will be added to allow handicapped persons access to the upper floor. Renovations are to start this winter and be completed by next summer, if not sooner. The parking lot south of the pharmacy will be paved. The adjacent building on the corner of Main and Elm will feature more extensive renovations with flooring and paneling. That building is in excellent condition, but some challenges and surprises can always be expected in renovation projects, Murphy said.

At the renovated old Randolph Building, all four upstairs apartments have been leased and are occupied. A corner suite on the first floor has been leased to 1 East Boutique, which is owned by The Princess Shoppe in Macomb. Inventory is being moved and the business set up. It is expected to open sometime this month. Murphy said two other suites on the first floor, each covering around 1,500 square feet, are available to be leased for retail businesses. Great interest has been shown in those, and positive results are expected, he said.

He noted four retail areas in the mall are also available to be leased. As for the Cook Canton medical-device plant being built at the old International Harvester site, it is expected to be completed sometime in February as weather allows, according to Greg Blum, who manages commercial properties for Cook. It will be a one-story facility with a mezzanine area for mechanical equipment. The plant will initially hire 100 people and eventually employ 300, Blum noted.