PEORIA – KDB Group, fronted by founder Kim Blickenstaff, was in the process of acquiring the Hale Memorial Church when it was sold out from under them during an online auction this week.
“Talk about tales of twists and turns and craziness,” said Greg Birkland, president and CEO of KDB Group.
KDB Group began negotiations with previous owner North Illinois Investments shortly after Kim Blickenstaff learned through a Journal Star article that the city had started a demolition case against the historic church. Northern Illinois Investments had agreed to give the property to KDB, said Birkland.
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“I was in the process of getting appraisals done for him so he (North Illinois Investments) could write it off on his taxes,” said Birkland. “I was getting commercial appraisers out there, and I was drawing up legal documents for it, and then we find out that it was being purchased through auction, and the guy never even told me he had it up for auction.”
A couple from Utah bought the church, sight-unseen. The pair have never even been to Peoria.
“So I signed the contract, and it’s not a done deal until I pay for it, and I have four days to pay for it,” said Colby Carpenter, a resident of Tooele, Utah, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. Because he would be fined and blocked from using the auction site if he doesn’t follow through on the purchase, Carpenter said he will definitely finish the transaction.
Colby said he and his wife, Michelle, purchased the historic church for just over $22,000.
“It is so cool,” he said. “The outside looks amazing. The stained glass just looks so cool, and it’s a really large building, with a lot of square footage. We could do so many cool things in there.”
Michelle Carpenter said the pair have been looking to buy a church for several years. They have not yet decided what they want to do with it. Ideas they are tossing around are a maker space, a wedding venue, a theater or maybe just a spacious house.
“My husband and I have done a lot of adventurous kinds of things like that before. We bought a school bus and took out all the seats and made it into an apartment. We sold it after a while. And we bought an old 1900s house and fixed it up. We just moved out of it. We do adventurous on-the-whim stuff like this all the time,” she said.
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Situated at the corner of Main and High Streets, Hale Memorial Church was built in 1900 and was home to numerous congregations until a serious fire in 1999. Since then, the structure has been the focus of numerous restoration efforts. The latest was headed by Earl Power Murphy and his wife Natalia Villanueva, who formed an organization called YAKU and tried for 10 years without success to attract investors to help renovate the church into a community arts center. The pair were disheartened when a feasibility study showed it would cost more than $2 million to get the building functional for that use.
The property went back to the county after taxes were left unpaid for three years, and it was purchased last year by North Illinois Investments for $1,001 during a tax auction.
The last few years of neglect have not been kind to the building. When Birkland went into the church a few weeks ago, he found a leaking roof, missing windows and spongy floors. In April, the city of Peoria started demolition proceedings when pieces of the stone façade began falling on the adjacent sidewalk. If the building’s new owners don’t make the necessary repairs, it could have be torn down this fall.
Colby said his first priority will be to make those repairs.
“I want to fix the exterior first, because I guess that’s where the city has the biggest issue. I want to get the exterior and roof fixed first before I mess with the inside,” he said.
Colby is an engineer and Michelle is an author with several books on Amazon. The pair have three small daughters, ages 4, 2 and 1, and the family plans to move to Peoria this summer.
“Yeah, we’re moving to Peoria basically because of this church. That’s pretty much the reason,” said Michelle. “There’s a property with five bedrooms that also needs restoration, and we hoping we get that property so we can live in there while we work on the church.”
The pair are looking at a house on NE Perry on the same auction site, said Colby.
“I’m actually bidding on a house today, it’s like two miles away from the church,” he said. “Pictures show it all boarded up, I have no idea what the interior looks like. So it’s a gamble, but not that big of a gamble because it’s only $5,000.”
If the interior is decent, the family will live there while they renovate the church, Colby said.
“Probably in a month or so, we’ll probably take a weekend and go check them out,” said Colby about the two Peoria properties. “I’ll take pictures and make educated decisions on how to move forward with the properties. I have ideas flowing in my head, but I can’t make any educated decisions now on what we should do without knowing the exact condition of everything.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.