July 19, 2008

More Evidence Still Needed in Ensenberger Building Suit

By M.K. Guetersloh, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

Jul. 19--BLOOMINGTON -- More evidence is needed before a decision on who should control the Ensenberger building can be made.

Circuit Judge Scott Drazewski denied a motion Friday for a judgment in the lawsuit based on what has been filed in McLean County Circuit Court.

Building owner Merle Huff of Peoria is suing project developer Ward Waller, who in turn filed a counter lawsuit.

Each claims the other failed to fulfill the terms of their contract for the building's development into condominiums, but for different reasons. Huff claims Waller failed to close on the purchase of the building from Huff, while Waller claims Huff prevented him from finishing the building.

At the end of the hearing, Drazewski encouraged the two sides to continue talking.

"Hopefully, the work done outside the courtroom will prove more fruitful than the work inside the courtroom," Drazewski said.

The $9 million project turned the seven-story former furniture building in downtown Bloomington into about 28 condominiums. Three of the units have been sold and are occupied.

While the lawsuits are pending, no new sales may be made.

In the meantime, the Peoria-based credit union CEFCU has filed for foreclosure in McLean County Circuit Court on the $6 million loan it issued as part of the Ensenberger building financing. Waller took out the loan and Huff co-signed it.

The city of Bloomington provided $2.2 million in tax increment financing money for the project. TIF money is property tax money generated within a specific district that is returned to pay for redevelopment or improvement projects within that district.

In September 2007, the city issued a statement that the project was completed to the point that it satisfied the terms of the TIF funding.

Huff's attorney, Mark Walton, argued that in court Friday that meant the project was completed. However, Bob Lenz, who represents Waller, said the contract between Huff and Waller called for the interior finishes of each unit to be completed.

Waller claims Huff locked him out of the building, keeping him from completing the building as specified in the contract.

Drazewski said the claims in the lawsuits were not clear enough to make a ruling.

A status hearing is set for Sept. 23.


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