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McHenry County, Harvard officials debate fate of historical Coventry house on Motorola site

Building in need of extensive repairs, owner largely absent from discussion

Matthew Apgar file photo – mapgar@shawmedia.com
Harvard city officials and McHenry County agencies are at odds on the matter of the historic William H. Coventry House and Barn, which is dilapidated and in need of extensive repairs.
Matthew Apgar file photo – mapgar@shawmedia.com Harvard city officials and McHenry County agencies are at odds on the matter of the historic William H. Coventry House and Barn, which is dilapidated and in need of extensive repairs.

HARVARD – The debate on whether to compel the Harvard Motorola property owner to repair a historic building on the site continues among McHenry County officials.

Harvard city officials and McHenry County agencies are at odds on the matter of the historic William H. Coventry House and Barn, which is dilapidated and in need of extensive repairs.

Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, owned by Xiao Hua Gong, plans to make smartphones at the vacant campus in Harvard, which has been empty since Motorola closed in 2003. Gong largely has been absent since submitting an incomplete application for enterprise zone incentives in March.

Historic Preservation Commission officials want to compel him to repair the building, which they have said is in imminent danger of demolition by neglect, but Harvard officials want to hold off until development plans for the Motorola site are better understood.

“If we don’t do something quick, there will be nothing left to save,” McHenry County Historical Society administrator Kurt Begalka said.

Charles Eldredge, director of the Harvard-Woodstock enterprise zone, said the city wants to try to work with Gong despite his unwillingness to report to the city about his intentions for the property.

“There is nothing there that in the short term, or even in the next couple years, that would cause collapse of the property,” Eldredge said. “We request this be continued, but we are very disappointed in the present ownership’s lack of transparency and proactive development of the site.”

The matter already has been continued several times. The McHenry County Planning, Development and Environment Committee again will consider it at its October meeting.

McHenry County and Harvard officials inspected the building in late June and discovered numerous immediate concerns, such as holes in the roof, load-bearing wall failure and foundation problems that are causing “significant heaving” in the floor system, according to the inspection report.

Eldredge said cost estimates to repair the property could top $500,000. Gong has said in the past that his plans for the site would cost about $32 million. The project initially was set to conclude in May, according to its incomplete incentive application.

Michigan-based Edward Harvard Holdings LLC bought the property online for $9.3 million in April 2016. The campus includes four multistory buildings, two heliports and other amenities, such as an auditorium, a fitness center, and biking and walking trails.

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 only five years in operation. At the time of its closing, the facility employed 1,200 people. About 600 of those employees found work at other Motorola facilities. The campus has been vacant since 2003.

The historic home on the campus was listed on the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list in 2015. The McHenry County Historical Society nominated the house to be a landmark, which doesn’t require consent from the owner. The home was plaqued as a landmark shortly before Gong bought it, city officials said.

McHenry County Planning, Development and Environment Committee member Joseph Gottemoller said he would expect the property owner to demolish the building if the county presses the matter.

“It’s still [his] property,” Gottemoller said. “I am not a big fan of telling people what they have to do with their property without getting their input any step of the way.”

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