HANNA CITY — In September of 2009, the State of Illinois handed the abandoned Hanna City Work Camp over to the County of Peoria, seven years after it was shut down for budgetary reasons.
Today, the former prison work camp that was operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections and housed about 230 inmates is considered an eyesore.
Due to restrictions imposed by the State, the County has been unable to redevelop or sell the 40-acre Hanna City Work Camp, 14617 Farmington Rd., Hanna City.
“There really aren’t too many things we can do with it because of some restrictions,” said Peoria County Rural Economic Development Director John Hamann. “There’s a radar base there that’s still active and because that radar facility is there, we can’t build anything out of metal. We can’t put up a new metal fence, we can’t put up a metal building, we can’t do anything like that. So that really limits what we can do there.
“Also, when the property was transferred from the State to the County, they said it had to remain as a public use or a public purpose, so we can’t make any money off of it. We can’t sell it. We can’t develop it. We just can’t do much.”
Recently, Peoria County developed the idea of using the work camp property that includes several buildings, a greenhouse and areas for horticulture, for agriculture.
According to Hamann, the property could be used as a “food hub,” a community effort to pool resources among small or organic farmers.
“The thought was maybe we can use some of the ground, some of the soil that is there that hasn’t been disturbed, and do some sort of food hub or gardening center or a small farm incubator or something like that,” said Hamann. “That’s kind of the direction we’re taking.”
Peoria County officials organized a meeting of around 35 people, including representatives from the University of Illinois Extension Office, Illinois Farm Bureau, United States Department of Agriculture and other government agencies as well as organic farmers and farmer’s market organizers, Saturday at the Hanna City Community Center to help them determine how to utilize the property.
“We think we have a great spot, but we don’t know what the right fit is because we’re not experts in that,” said Hamann. “The County’s role here would probably be just to provide the property. We’ve got the property. Because we can’t make any money on it, maybe we could work with someone who manages the program and make this thing work and be a local food project of some kind.
“It’s a long-term project. We’ll see what everybody thinks and then we’ll kind of gather these ideas together and then we’ll take them to a couple of county board committees and get some direction, see if they think this is worth pursuing.”
Peoria County has also considered giving the property back to the State of Illinois.
“One of our options is give it back to the State, but we don’t believe the State really wants it back, so we’re going to try to do something with it,” said Hamann.
The County would like to demolish some of the “deteriorating” buildings on the property.
“We think we can do something out there without really getting too involved with all those empty buildings,” said Hamann. “Our project might allow us to use a couple buildings, but for the most part, we wouldn’t be doing anything with the majority of the buildings out there. And they’re in really, really bad shape. They’re deteriorating. They’re falling apart. They’re almost beyond repair.”