Renovation transforming Elgin building into apartment complex starts

Heidi Lapin summed up the feeling of many in attendance at the symbolic groundbreaking for The Courtyard at 40, a project being heralded as a potential catalyst in downtown Elgin’s revitalization efforts.

“Today, we want to commemorate the past and celebrate the future,” said Lapin, project manager for the WT Group. “We are extremely proud to be part of Elgin’s rich history.”

The Courtyard at 40 is an $11.3 million undertaking in which what was once known as the Spurling Block Building at 40 DuPage Court will be transformed into a 40-unit apartment complex with 4,500 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.

This artist's rendering shows what The Courthouse at 40 will look like when renovation is complete.  The five-story downtown building will have 40 apartments and 4,500 square feet of ground-level commercial space.

Demolition inside the building, located at Spring Street and DuPage Court, started a few months ago, Lapin said. Crews filled more than four dozen 60-yard dumpsters and removed asbestos from the historic building.

Andrew Barclay Spurling, a Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient, paid $105,000 to have the five-story building designed by local architect W. Wright Abell and constructed in 1893.

It was Elgin’s first steel-framed building, which was just starting to be used in construction. Spurling was ahead of his time in this regard, according to Lapin, who obtained the structure’s history from Elgin Historic Preservation Planner Christen Sundquist.

“This was a huge deal in development at the time,” Lapin said.

Spurling ultimately lost the building to foreclosure, Lapin said. It would later be home to The Courier-News newspaper for many years before falling into disrepair as the area became more blighted and many of downtown department stores closed.

While listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the building was vacant and bank-owned when Dan Strojny and Legend Partners purchased it in 2014.

“This is such a surreal moment,” Strojny said. “This groundbreaking is a celebration of the work going on and the progress we’re working toward, but also a moment to reflect on all the hard work that’s gone behind the scenes to get us where we are today.”

The history of the building at 40 DuPage Court, which includes being the first structure in downtown Elgin to be built with steel, plays an important role in its restoration, the developer said.

The project has been a team effort, he said, using the groundbreaking to thank those who helped make the redevelopment happen, including the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin and city officials.

Jennifer Fukala said she was the first spoke to Strojny about the building’s future when she became executive director of DNA six years ago.

“I still remember that conversation and how exciting it was to hear his passion to want to make something happen,” said Fukala.

The city has spent decades trying to revitalize downtown by creating housing and attracting shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses to the area. It can take many small steps when trying to create economic development or revitalize an area, he said.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s one step forward and two steps back,” she said. “It’s the nature of the work of people bringing together, bringing ideas together and bringing resources together and having them all align. … A project like this is a huge step forward for downtown Elgin.”

The city of Elgin has allocated $3.9 million in Tax Increment Financing district money to help fund the redevelopment and is in the process of renovating the public courtyard outside of which the building takes its name.

When construction on The Courtyard at 40 in downtown Elgin is complete next year, it will have a lobby that will serve the residents who occupy the 40 studio and one-and-two-bedroom apartments.

“When you string projects like this together, it’s a catalyst for change in the community,” said Fukala.

Lillian Glab, who attended the groundbreaking event, said she and her moved into a downtown apartment building six years ago when “Elgin was an up-and-coming place.” While some of the momentum stalled and then the pandemic hit, she’s hopeful this is the turning point and more development will follow, Glab said.

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

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