HARVARD – A smartphone maker plans to hire about 100 employees as it prepares to begin manufacturing at the long-vacant former Motorola campus in Harvard.
Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, which owns the 1.52 million-square-foot building at 2001 N. Division St., is asking for economic incentives for the $32 million project. It would bring 100 temporary construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs to the area, said Charles Eldredge, who heads the Harvard-Woodstock enterprise zone. He said the company's application for incentives was incomplete.
“They state manufacturing, distribution, training and marketing [jobs] but don’t specify further,” he said. “They anticipate completing the project this year.”
The company’s application said it will make smartphones and have distribution, a research and development center, customer support, engineering services, telecommunications operations and a training center on the campus. The application gave an estimated completion date of May.
Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, based in Michigan, bought the property online for $9.3 million in April 2016. The campus includes four multi-story buildings, two heliports and other amenities such as an auditorium, biking and walking trails and a fitness center. Xiao Hua Gong is listed as the sole manager of Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, according to state records.
Two people listed on the enterprise zone application were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Motorola built the $100 million corporate campus in 1997. It was expected to bring an economic boom to Harvard. The state of Illinois contributed $30 million for infrastructure around the plant. At its peak, the facility employed 5,000 people. However, Motorola closed the plant after just five years in operation. At the time of its closing, the facility employed 1,200. About 600 of those employees found work at other Motorola facilities. The campus has been vacant since 2003.
For more than a decade, residents have speculated on what would become of the site. In 2003, a developer wanted to turn the plant into a water park and amusement center, but those plans fell through in 2004. Florida-based Optima International bought the property for nearly $17 million in 2008. It failed to find a tenant even though the property was marketed as a potential prison, educational facility, manufacturing plant or Department of Homeland Security office. Over the years, the maintenance at the property was sporadic and, for a time, it appeared the building would be left to rot. At one point, ComEd sued Optima over an outstanding $545,000 electric bill.
The amount of incentives Edward Harvard could get from the enterprise zone will depend on the scope of work it actually completes. The application said the company plans to spend $17 million on remodeling and another $15 million on equipment. Enterprise zone incentives allow companies to do things such as not pay sales tax on building materials for construction and get abatements on property taxes.
“I simply don’t know whether that’s a guess on their part or if they actually have contracts,” Eldredge said. “The application is incomplete. I will know more once I have a complete application.”
City officials said they haven't heard from the company directly.
When Edward Harvard bought the campus last year, city officials were told the company planned to use it, but didn't provide specifics as to the number of jobs that it might bring to the area.
The company doesn't need approval from the city to begin manufacturing, City Administrator Dave Nelson said.
"We're kind of in the dark" about the company's plans for the building, said Alderman Bob O'Halloran, who represents the 3rd Ward. He said he'd seen improvements to the outside of the building since Edward Harvard bought it.
“The city has not yet seen the application nor have we spoken directly with the company, so we are unable to confirm any details,” Mayor Michael Kelly in a social media post. “It is clear that things have been happening as activity and parking lot maintenance has been observed for several weeks. When the city has concrete information to share, we will.”