Impatience grows over Eagle Hotel

A recent report in the Joliet Herald News indicates that members of the Wilmington (Ill.) City Council are growing weary about the lack of progress in the rehabilitation of the 171-year-old Eagle Hotel on Route 66 in Wilmington.

Owner Bill Scales wants to convert the historic hotel into an upscale restaurant and hotel. He says he’s used $500,000 in labor and materials on the project, and needs another $1 million to finish.

The problem is that Scales has been counting grants to fund the rest of the project — grants that have not materialized. Meanwhile, it’s been seven years since the city has turned over the building to Scales, and he’s wanting another 18-month extension. City officials want the Eagle Hotel rehabbed, but are balking over Scales’ lack of progress.

“The problem is realistically, it has been seven years and if we add another 18 months, it will be nine if Mr. Scales cannot finish it,” said Mayor Roy Strong. “We need to keep the pressure on him to finish the building.”

Strong said the people he has talked to are tired of waiting and feel that the project is never going to happen.

Some officials said they would like Scales to simply pay back the $45,000 he owes so he can own the building outright and do whatever he wants with it.

“This has been going on way too long,” said Alderman Helen Hoppe.

Others are worried that the building, with outside walls that are visibly being propped up by boards, is unsafe and an accident waiting to happen. Strong said there also have been other parties voicing interests in restoring the building that feel the finances would not be such a problem.

I’m as preservation-minded as they come. But I admit I’m on that city’s side with this. Seven years is beyond patient. Heck, the ongoing fight with El Vado Motel in Albuquerque has been going on for nearly 2 1/2 years, and I’m growing tired of it myself. With the Eagle Motel, take that situation times three.

Scales’ mistake was he counted on grants to finish his project. When considering funding sources for a preservation project, grants should be almost gravy. Competition for grants is fierce, even with a relatively small program like the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get one. And, of course, shortfalls in federal and state budgets can adversely affect such programs.

I’ve been told that Scales is now seeking private investors for Eagle Hotel, something he should have done in the first place. He’d also be well-advised to use more volunteer help, including the energetic members of the Illinois Route 66 Association.

(Photo courtesy of Guy Randall.) 

One thought on “Impatience grows over Eagle Hotel

  1. I have to agree with you on this one. Seven years is a long time. However, it’s not unheard of in preservation struggles, either. (The Southwest Museum in Mount Washington [Los Angeles] is now four years into its battle for preservation.) I sympathize with both parties in this and would like to see an amicable and productive ending to this story.

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