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Royer home restoration nears completion in Sterling

But Sterling Standard site needs a miracle

STERLING – Scott Hibbard has made time stand still at the historic Royer home on East Second Street, but it saddens him to know that time has probably run out for another local landmark.

Hibbard, a local contractor with a passion for old buildings and the history that lives within them, is putting the finishing touches on the former home of Moses Royer, one of Sterling’s first doctors.

With meticulous attention to detail, the home at 401 E. Second St. has been restored to its former glory. Three businessmen, including Hibbard, share office space on the main floor and lowel level. The others are architect Al McCloud, and Ken McNinch, who has his Northern Floors samples set up in the lower level. The upstairs has been turned into two suites that offer business travelers a quaint yet high-tech alternative to hotels.

Hibbard and his wife, Nikki, started working on the Royer home in 2011. It had been abandoned for many years and written off by most as a lost cause. But the doubters just served as motivation to bring their vision to fruition.

“People said the Royer home was too far gone and couldn’t be done,” Hibbard said. “But restorations are not for the weak-willed or fainthearted.”

When they first looked at the house, it was full of mold, and cans were lined up in the attic catching the water that had been coming in for years. It was completely gutted and rebuilt to the original specifications. Photographs dating back to the late 1800s are showcased on the walls upstairs.

As the tenants started filling the home, Hibbard was squeezed out of his office.

“I started out with an upstairs office, but now I have a man cave in the office,” he said. “I have to pay the bills, but I have put so much time into the building, I wanted to stay.”

Nikki is a Sterling High School grad. She is a partner in the business, and her love for the Royer home can be seen in the intricate layout and design work that has been done.

“It’s exhausting, but exhilirating, especially when you get feedback from people who appreciate how you’ve improved the community,” Nikki said.

The couple spent countless hours staring at old photos of the home, so the renovation was as historically accurate as possible. They also spent a great deal of time on the Internet and in expansive warehouses looking for items that sometimes seemed impossible to find.

“We looked everywhere before we found the pocket doors,” Nikki said. “After going through about the fourth huge salvage warehouse in Chicago, we finally found them.”

A different ending

History links the brick Italianate with a much larger landmark at 13 E. Fourth St. Built in 1898, the Sterling Standard building has been home to newspapers, banks and bars.

It was built by J.P. Anthony, a renowned Civil War surgeon who specialized in amputations.

“Both Anthony and Royer came from the East because of the need for doctors during the war,” Hibbard said. “They stayed in the area after the war and became friends and business partners.”

As D.W. Grandon bought more newspapers, he purchased the building, selling it to Sterling Federal Savings and Loan Association. The bank was there from 1935 to 1966, but it eventually was abandoned by an out-of-state owner, and the city made plans to demolish it.

“The city ended up with the building through the abandonment process,” Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard said. “We had a condemned building with unpaid taxes and a no-show owner.”

The 7,000-square-foot building was given a reprieve by the Hibbards and another investor. After learning more about the building, they changed their plans.

“We were going to just subdivide the space for residential, but once we got a little piece of its history, we changed the plan completely,” Nikki said.

Plans were drawn up by architect Al McCloud, who has one of the offices at the Royer home. The first floor would be a restaurant featuring alfresco dining, while the second level would be office space. It would have a rustic industrial look – just as it did the day it was built. But as the initial planning phase was wrapping up, the project fell apart.

“The city was willing to work with us, but at the end of the decision-making process, we lost our third investor,” Scott Hibbard said. “We’ve talked to so many people, but we couldn’t find another investor. The potential at this building is endless – it just needs money.”

Hibbard said the cost of renovating the building would vary depending on the tenants’ buildout plans, but the cost to demolish it would be about one-third of the renovation price tag.

Building on life support

Shumard said city officials also would like to preserve the building. It will be difficult to find the money for either scenario.

“They presented a creative and interesting concept, but the council wasn’t interested in putting too much funding into the project with unknown final costs relative to demolition costs,” he said. “It was hoped another funding partner could be brought in, but that did not materialize.”

Shumard said the condition of the building has it living on borrowed time. While he would like to see someone save it, if it doesn’t happen soon, the city will have to find the money to demolish it.

“Unfortunately, including asbestos abatement, the estimated demolition cost gets into the six-figure range,” he said. “So until another investor comes into the picture, or the city finds the demolition and abatement funds, it will sit there for a bit longer.”

Scott Hibbard understands the city’s situation and appreciates the cooperation he has received while pursuing his projects. While his passion for historic buildings drives him, he also believes in the financial benefits that can be derived from saving them.

“People don’t realize how important it can be to fix these distressed properties and bring them back onto the tax rolls,” he said. “Officials seem to first look at increasing the tax base, when the primary focus should be improving the properties.”

In the past 3 years, Hibbard has increased the property values on 22 units in the downtown corridor from $110,000 to nearly $900,000.

“I bought the Royer home from the bank for $28,500 because it was going to be demolished,” he said. “Sure, it’s more expensive to restore and renovate most buildings, but in Sterling there just isn’t much left of its history.”

When asked if they would consider flipping the Royer home, the answer came quickly for Scott and Nikki.

“We’re absolutely not selling the Royer home,” Scott said. “That building is our baby.”

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