after its founding in 1833, the City of Batavia was experiencing one of its many renaissance moments in the community’s history. In 1880, a group of forward-thinking citizens invested $100 each to fund a two-story opera house to be constructed on S. Shumway Street in downtown. Others shared resources by contributing bricks to the construction effort, an early show of community support that fashioned a variegated facade on the north and south faces of the building.
The two-story building realized its original vision of a being a central location for public meetings, community gatherings and shows for a few decades. But that never turned profitable for its stakeholders. Its use evolved over time from a roller rink to a movie house that was known as the Capitol Theater until the late 1960s. A smattering of service businesses operated out of the building through the end of the century. By the early 2000s, the building’s historic exterior had been pasted over with unattractive shingles and siding with a front façade literally falling down. That’s how it looked when Batavia MainStreet introduced architectural firm, Kluber Inc. to the possibilities of the site for a project in downtown Batavia in 2006.
President Mike Kluber and his partners explored multiple options for their newly acquired riverfront property, including a five-story commercial building. Market studies showed that leasing rates at the time would not support the financial risk in an already soft rental market. “We didn’t see the value in bringing on additional inventory to the downtown where there was no need. If we had built too aggressively, the project would probably have failed.”
Timing is everything
In hindsight, delays in finalizing the project worked to Kluber’s advantage. Because right around the corner was the recession of 2008, which hit the real estate market particularly hard. Kluber reflects, “If we had built out the big vision, it may have bankrupted us.”
As an active member of Batavia MainStreet and the community, Kluber decided that he believed in the city’s plans to revitalize downtown Batavia and attract other commercial and residential enterprises. The firm still saw potential in the property and was committed to right-sizing the project.
Available riverfront property on the Fox was and still is a premium commodity. There was just one problem. The existing building was in terrible shape and considered a downtown eyesore. Mike Kluber remembers, “This place was in total neglect and we almost walked away.” Kluber adds, “Its history, riverfront location and being part of the bigger downtown Batavia revitalization vision kept us motivated.” But the next big hurdle was making the project financially viable.
Financial motivation came through the City of Batavia’s TIF funds available in the district where 10 S. Shumway was located. Though typically targeted towards sales tax revenue generating properties, the use of TIF funds made the project more desirable for development. That investment required $1M in capital to move the project forward. “We were planning to convert from two stories to one, which as far as a bank sees is not the type of desirable project for a loan, so we chose to use our own funds to make the project viable.
Kluber saw significance in rehabilitating the structure, “When you are trying to improve the overall impression and health of a downtown, community leaders need to step up. It has to start somewhere, so we elected to invest our own money in this building.” This decision not only eliminated the former blight, but also increased the quality of the building inventory in downtown.
A complete internal renovation and partial external teardown was needed to save what was left of the old Opera House. Decades of varied use and neglect took its toll and few options were left to consider salvage the original building. Kluber maintains, “Removing blight is fundamental to revitalizing downtowns.” 10 S. Shumway was too far gone to save and needed a visionary to reimagine how to preserve the historical character of the building and update for new use.
The project was awarded $319,000 in TIF support funding, with the entire process of gutting and repurposing the structure costing over $1.4M. “This is our company’s investment in Batavia and our future,” Kluber posits. “It is our base of operations, showcasing the quality and compassion of our work and commitment to the future of Batavia.”
Indeed, the crisp exterior of the Kluber headquarters half a block south of Wilson Street in downtown Batavia represents one of many choices to preserve and restore historic buildings that carry the city’s rich past into the future. The design of 10 S. Shumway pays a nod to the historic past of the building by preserving three sides of the building and showcasing its varied brick donated by community members. The new front limestone façade pays homage to Batavia’s legacy while the interior showcases energy efficiency and a modern, award-winning design recognized by the Batavia Chamber of Commerce with its prestigious Ole Award in 2011.
The story of 10 S. Shumway demonstrates that the City of Batavia both respects its past and possesses the will to change for the sake of its future. As evidence of this change, when offered the opportunity to put the word “OPERA” in the keystone location at the building’s peak, the city declined. The Kluber, Inc. building now bears the name of the firm that re-imagined its new future.
Challenge windmill factory now houses a mix of commercial businesses that overlook the river offering views of actual restored windmills once manufactured within the walls of those buildings.
The Kluber building, now lovingly restored with a stone front and airy interior perfectly reflects the work that an architectural and engineering firm performs on behalf of its clients. The craftsmanship of Batavia’s past lives on today through projects like Kluber.
The firm has directed projects such as the Health and Professional Services building at Elgin Community College, The Holmstad in Batavia, the Living Well Cancer Resource Center, Batavia Fire Department Eastside and Westside Stations, Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, Gurnee Police Station and many projects for municipalities, schools, health care and businesses.
VESTED IN COMMUNITY
Mike Kluber invests much of himself in the greater community as well. He led the Batavia MainStreet board as its president during critical rebuilding years, served as a board member on the Batavia Educational Foundation, as Chairman of the Aurora Electrical Commission and Permanent Building Code, trustee at Rosary High School, and is currently a board member for the Living Well Cancer Resource Center. These personal investments of sharing time and expertise help to explain Kluber’s willingness to establish corporate roots in a city steeped in history and volunteerism. The community of Batavia is fortunate to have leaders like Kluber who bring private investment and a big heart to revitalize our downtown. Partnerships. This is what the City of Batavia seeks to develop with developers, property owners, businesses and Batavia organizations that make us a community by design.
This Case Study on is available in PDF form on the City of Batavia
Batavia: the right place to succeed
The City of Batavia hosts some of the world’s leading companies in commercial, industrial, retail, manufacturing and distribution. Batavia’s location two miles north of the I-88 corridor and 35 miles west of Chicago is ideal for a diverse business base. Leading manufacturers and distributors such as Suncast, Flinn Scientific and Flagsource all base operations in Batavia, which also serves as world headquarters for Aldi, Inc. with more than 9,000 stores in the United States.
The primary contact for Economic Development in the City of Batavia is Christopher Aiston, Phone: 630-454-2061
Businesses large and small work with Chris to find the ideal location for commercial, industrial or retail enterprise.
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For business support and advocacy across the spectrum of retail, commercial and industrial needs, contact the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. Contact Holly Deitchman at 630-879-7134. www.bataviachamber.org
For Downtown Batavia business connections, sponsorships and community events, contact Jamie Saam, Batavia Mainstreet, 630.761.3529. www.downtownbatavia.com
BATAVIA: POSITIONED FOR YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS
Batavia’s commercial and retail district occupies more than 1.5M square feet of leased and available retail space. From its historic downtown to its growth-focused Randall Road corridor, Batavia hosts well-known service brands ranging from Panera Bread to Trader Joe’s. Its big box retailers include Walmart, Jewel/Osco, Office Max/Depot, Hobby Lobby and Menard’s. This makes for a diverse and growing retail market where Batavia’s 27,000 residents can shop, work and entertain.
On its eastern border, Batavia shares boundaries with the world-renowned scientific research facility Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. After 50 years of leadership in the field of particle research, this government facility associated with the University of Chicago has set its sights on the pursuit of knowledge about dark matter, an entirely new field of research. These new pursuits are expected to create more than 2000 jobs and bring residents from around the world to live and work in Batavia.
We invite you to make Batavia your business destination.