Harvard City Council revokes agreement on landmarked William H. Coventry House

Historic site sits on massive former Motorola campus

HARVARD – The Harvard City Council voted Tuesday to dissolve an agreement with McHenry County that designates the William H. Coventry House and Barn as a historic landmark.

The city entered the agreement with the county in 2016. The historic property sits on the site of the long-vacant former Motorola campus and is deteriorating.

McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission officials have focused on the house and barn in recent months because they need repairs and the owner of the 325-acre campus hasn’t made a move to restore or preserve the house and barn.

Edward Harvard Holdings LLC, owned by Xiao Hua Gong, bought the campus for $9.3 million in April and has since let property taxes go delinquent. An auction company bought the taxes in October and could take control of the site if Gong does not redeem them within the next two and a half to three years.

Gong also has failed to move forward on a proposal to make smartphones at the Motorola property, despite having submitted incomplete plans and a request for financial incentives to the Harvard-Woodstock enterprise zone in March.

Motorola built the expansive campus in 1997, but the plant only operated for five years. It was anticipated to be an economic boon for Harvard, and city officials are holding out that the property’s new owner will bring jobs, business and revenue to the city.

Mayor Michael Kelly brought up a plan to dissolve the agreement on the Coventry House’s landmark designation earlier this month. County codes exist to regulate the preservation of landmarked historic properties, and if the agreement stayed in place, county officials would have recourse to compel Gong to fix the property, which could cost more than $300,000.

Kelly said he feared that the action would cause the owner to demolish the home and barn to avoid the cost of the project. He also wants to establish a good relationship with the site owner, he said.

“It’s not clear if this organization knew he was buying a landmarked property,” Kelly said. “His due diligence wasn’t completed until two weeks after the close of the auction.”

Kelly said he didn’t want to back the owner – or any potential future owners – into a corner over the matter.

“While we want to preserve history, I don’t want to do it at the expense of losing jobs in the county,” Kelly said. “I feel at this juncture to continue to push the owner and essentially force him to put in money to preserve or restore the property would take away from anything he could do to bring in business and jobs to the community.”

The Harvard City Council voted to dissolve the agreement without discussion, and the matter will be final in 30 days.

The site at 2001 N. Division St. includes a two-story, 619,590-square-foot manufacturing building, a 355,515-square-foot distribution center, a five-story office building, a two-story services building and warehouse space, along with the Coventry House site.

Amenities include two day care facilities, a cafeteria that can seat 1,100 people, a fitness center, a 500-seat auditorium, and biking and walking trails.

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