- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - Over its decades of operation, thousands provided for their families through jobs at Wagner Castings Co.

It was a place where people worked hard, making automotive parts and an honest living. Founded in 1917, it was also a proud part of Decatur’s legacy; about a thousand people worked there in 1990.

But business took a turn. The company changed hands, later becoming known as Intermet Foundry, and closed its doors in 2005.

These days, the 34-acre site off of Jasper Street looks like something out of a movie about the dystopian future.

Brush grows wildly. Trees poke up through the concrete floors of buildings, or the places where buildings used to be.

Trespassers have stripped wires and taken anything of value they could find. They leave things, too: broken bottles, broken windows. Utility crews once discovered pit bulls chained to a fence and evidence that they were being made to fight nearby.

Not to mention the obvious environmental issues - barrels of unknown substances, piles of material containing asbestos.

How do you even start to fix a mess like that?

Commercial real estate broker Tim Vieweg plans to try. With help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Decatur, Vieweg wants to clean up the site and develop it for productive use.

“The biggest picture, I think . is trying to figure out how to bring jobs here,” Vieweg said. “I think this is a great piece of land to be able to do that, to build some buildings that get added to the tax base as far as the property taxes and bring jobs.”

The site was sold in 2008 to a group of Pennsylvania investors called 825 North Lowber LLC. They demolished some buildings and sold materials for scrap, but the property eventually fell into disrepair.

Property taxes were owed. The city performed some maintenance work and placed liens on the property. Now, the city is positioned to take ownership, which it can turn over to Vieweg.

The Decatur City Council voted Monday to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure on the property. The city will immediately transfer the deed to Vieweg, managing broker of Vieweg Real Estate, who negotiated the deal.

“I’ve been working for two years with (Macon County) trying to figure out how to make this a useable piece of property, and then we got the city and EPA involved,” Vieweg said. “With everybody’s cooperation, we were able to make it happen.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend roughly $2 million to remove hazardous materials from the property, a process Vieweg said could begin in the next few weeks. Once they are done, he plans to remove the overgrowth and make the property presentable to potential tenants or buyers.

“I think it’ll be a work in progress, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not at least talking with folks within a year,” he said. “We’ll start marketing immediately.”

For all its obvious minuses, the property has a lot of pluses, too. It butts up against rail lines. It is already zoned for heavy industrial use. It’s in the county’s enterprise zone. The utilities and infrastructure are already in place.

Plus, it’s big.

“This is 34 acres in the center of Decatur. How often can you put together 34 acres?” Vieweg said. “You’d have to buy 100 houses to put together 34 acres.”

The city worked with Vieweg, Macon County, Illinois EPA, U.S. EPA and Central Illinois Title Co. for months to resolve the situation, Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said.

Tyus described the property, which he has toured, as being “in terrible condition” and likely to remain that way unless this type of action were taken.

“We’re excited about the site getting cleaned up, both from an environmental perspective and also the possibility of it being developed into an economic development opportunity that can create job opportunities, that could create economic opportunities, that could help to return that neighborhood to what it once was,” Tyus said. “This has been an eyesore for a while.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1PpFgt2

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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