HARVARD – An auction company has bought delinquent property taxes for Harvard’s former Motorola campus.
The largely absent owner of the former Motorola campus in Harvard allowed property taxes on the 1.5 million-square-foot campus to fall delinquent when he failed to pay the second installment on the $325,437 tax bill Sept 9. An auction company bought the taxes at a McHenry County tax sale Oct. 30, according to county records.
When property taxes are sold, the investor puts a lien on the property that it can then hold for two and a half to three years. If the owner of the property doesn’t pay back the taxes, the investor can take control of the property, McHenry County Deputy Chief Treasurer Cindy Kozlowski said.
“We need to get the money immediately to distribute it to the taxing districts,” she said.
This isn’t the first time an owner of the 325-acre campus has allowed taxes to go delinquent. Florida-based Optima International bought the property for $16.75 million in 2008. It owed the county more than $329,000 in taxes in 2014. ComEd sued Optima the same year for $545,816 in outstanding bills, and the electricity was shut off.
The property at 2001 N. Division St. has been vacant since 2003. Dearborn, Michigan-based Edward Harvard Holdings bought the site in an online auction in 2016 for $9.3 million. Owner Xiao Hua Gong submitted an incomplete application for economic incentives through the Harvard Woodstock Enterprise Zone for a proposed $32 million project that would launch smartphone manufacturing at the site in March.
Officials with the enterprise zone and the city of Harvard have yet to meet with the owner and discuss the status of the project, said Charles Eldredge, who heads up the zone.
“We have repeatedly tried to meet with them and they haven’t made themselves available,” Eldredge said. “We don’t know what his plans are at this point.”
The electricity on the site still was on, and the staff have been maintaining the property as of several weeks ago, Eldredge said.
“We’d be much happier if the owner was communicating with us as to his plans,” he said. “We feel we are in the dark, and as a result, we don’t know what to think.”
It’s fairly common for taxes on a commercial property to end up in a tax sale, Eldredge said.
“It may or may not be a serious issue,” he said. “The owner has a right to redeem them for a considerable period of time. This may be a way to conserve cash flow as he develops plans or it may be evidence of something more disquieting.”
Eldredge said he had been told the owner planned to market the site as a potential location for Amazon’s second headquarters. The online giant opened a search for a site for its “HQ2” in September and has drawn thousands of bids from cities across the nation, according to a news release from Amazon.
McHenry County Chairman Jack Franks is on a task force looking to bring the new headquarters to the Chicago area and said the Harvard property doesn’t meet Amazon’s site specifications.
Motorola built the $100 million commercial campus in 1997. The property includes four multistory buildings, two heliports and other amenities such as an auditorium, biking and walking trails and a fitness center. Motorola shut down operations after five years and residents, officials and developers have speculated on what the site would become ever since. It’s been marketed as a potential prison, educational facility, manufacturing plant, water park, Department of Homeland Security office and now a smartphone factory.
The redevelopment had been scheduled to be complete earlier this year, but so far hasn’t moved forward.
The site has drawn attention from historic preservation advocates because the landmarked William H. Coventry House and Barn is on the campus and needs repair. Historic Preservation Commission officials want to compel Gong to repair the building.
The Harvard City Council could withdraw its participation in an intergovernmental agreement with the county regarding landmark status, which would eliminate the county’s ability to interfere on behalf of the historic structure, Eldredge said.
Harvard officials haven’t wanted to push the issue with the owner until site plans are better understood. James Cambridge, a lawyer representing Gong, responded to concerns in a letter to McHenry County officials in October.
“Often, the preservation of a single building – as important as it is – must be viewed in the context of something much bigger and equally important to the community,” he wrote. “Our collective efforts should be devoted to redevelopment of the entire campus.”
Harvard Mayor Mike Kelly communicated the idea of removing the city from the agreement to members of the McHenry County Planning, Development and Environment Committee at its last meeting, Eldredge said.
“That hasn’t taken place yet,” he said. “But I think both the mayor and members of the board regarded those comments as a serious issue.”
Kelly and Gong’s representative weren’t available for comment on Monday.