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Motorola cancels building sale

By MICHAEL GIBBS

michaelgibbs@nwherald.com

HARVARD - Developer Joe Buralli's dream to build an indoor water park in the vacant Motorola building on the city's north side appears to have evaporated.

When Buralli could not come up with the financing to close on the Route 14 land by the July 30 deadline, Motorola ended the contract agreed to in July 2003, said Jennifer Weyrauch, spokeswoman for the company.

Buralli and Motorola had agreed to several extensions during the past year.

"We had a closing scheduled for [July 30]," Weyrauch said. "When the closing did not happen, the contract was terminated.

"The [delays] have been going on for a year. We have other parties interested in the property."

Buralli did not immediately return a phone call Friday.

Buralli's company, H2Otels USA LLC, wanted to turn Motorola's bulding into an indoor water park development. The 1.6 million-square-foot facility was a distribution center for wireless phones and two-way radios.

The water park was to have created hundreds of jobs, and plans included a corporate training center, fitness equipment, go-carts, hotel rooms, mini-golf and movie theaters.

"Buralli took the risk in the spirit of trying to make something good happen," said Karen Patel, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. "It did not work out. You have to give him credit for trying."

Motorola Inc. employed 5,000 people in Harvard at its peak during the technology boom of the late 1990s. Before it was shuttered in March 2003, the facility employed 1,200.

About 600 employees found work at other Motorola facilities. The others were left without a job.

In a statement, Harvard Mayor Ralph Henning said the city remains confident that a tenant will be found for the building.

"Motorola has told us they have other users interested in the property," Henning said. "Buralli has told us he still is working to realize the water park project.

"The city is optimistic that, in either case, the facility soon will be put back into productive use."

Patel also is optimistic.

"The facility is a gem," she said. "We need to work together as a region with Motorola to find the best use for that building. There has to be a right fit out there for that facility."

However, Tom Rowen, vice president and senior portfolio manager at Fifth Third Bank Investment Advisors, said it will be difficult for Motorola to sell the building.

"You have a significant amount of commercial property still vacant all around the Chicago area," Rowen said. "And, Harvard is far out there, not easy to get to."

Weyrauch declined to discuss the financial hit Motorola is taking by owning the vacant Harvard facility.

Rowen said the financial burden on a large company like Motorola is not significant.

"They do have a reasonable amount of fixed expenses tied to keeping a large plant properly maintained," he said. "But, it is a minor blow to Motorola. I can't believe it is a big financial burden."

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