Firefighters look for clues as demolition begins on Newcomb Hote - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Firefighters look for clues as demolition begins on Newcomb Hotel

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(Photo/WGEM News) (Photo/WGEM News)
Embers blowing west caused concern for neighboring buildings Embers blowing west caused concern for neighboring buildings
Heavy smoke caused the nearby Lincoln-Douglas Apartments to be evacuated Heavy smoke caused the nearby Lincoln-Douglas Apartments to be evacuated
QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -

The wrecking ball began to swing early Sunday morning as crews brought down the walls of Quincy's historic Newcomb Hotel, which was gutted by a massive fire Friday night.

Captain Mark Bigelow with the Quincy Fire Department was on scene with a number of firefighters during the demolition process.  He says they hoped to see clues as to the fire's origins as the inside of the structure was revealed.  However, Bigelow says that due to the fire's size and their inability to enter the structure, most of the investigation will rely on interviews.

Fire Chief Joe Henning said on Saturday that he believes the fire was incendiary in nature, mainly due to the fact that there was no power in the building.  Whether it was accidental or intentional has yet to be determined.

Director of Planning and Development Chuck Bevelheimer says their primary goal is to bring down the top two or three floors, in an effort to reopen downtown businesses as well as 4th Street, a major route through town, which has been closed since Friday.

Bevelheimer says the building was not structurally sound, and was in danger of collapsing into the street, or onto neighboring buildings.  Demolition was scheduled to begin at 6am Sunday, but was delayed until about 8:30am, while electrical crews removed street lights and traffic signals, to prevent damage from falling bricks.

Work progressed slowly, as crews took extreme care with the wrecking ball.  Bevelheimer says the goal is to knock as much brick as possible into the structure, so as not to cause any damage to surrounding buildings.  He said it's possible that the process could take well into Monday.

Bevelheimer says demolition will stop once the building is brought down to a level where it is no longer in danger of collapsing.  At that point, the city council will decide how to proceed.  He believes they will put the remaining work up for bid.

The city hired firms Blick's Construction and Niemann General Contracting, with a cost of $500 to $600 per hour for this initial demolition. 

Fourth Street remains closed from York to Hampshire, and Maine is closed from 4th to 5th.  Henning encouraged residents and onlookers to respect the taped off areas near the hotel.

"There may be only tape, but they're up for their safety," Henning said, noting that orange fencing will soon be replacing the tape.

Power was shut down to some nearby buildings in the area of 4th and Maine for nearly two hours on Friday night and 80 residents from the Lincoln-Douglas Apartments on the opposite corner of 4th and Maine were evacuated to the Quincy Senior Center because of the heavy smoke. Henning said those residents were moved back to their homes early Saturday morning. 

Flames and heavy black smoke could be seen coming from the southwest corner of the vacant building shortly after 9 p.m. Friday. The first fire crew on scene entered the building, but once flames were seen, all crews were pulled out. The Newcomb was considered a "Red X" building, meaning it was unsafe for firefighters to enter during a fire because of the disrepair and holes in the floor inside the building. 

The Newcomb Hotel was completed in 1888 at the corner of 4th and Maine Street and was recently added to the "Landmarks Illinois Ten Most Endangered Buildings" list.

The building has been vacant for nearly 30 years. Recent attempts to renovate the old hotel have fallen through. This summer, the city began foreclosure proceedings against the current owner, Victor Horowitz. He's failed to repay a loan from the city worth more than $500,000. 

Bevelheimer says he has attempted to reach Horowitz and has left messages, but has not heard back from him.

A Cedar Rapids, Iowa developer had recently expressed interested in developing the Newcomb by turning the first floor into commercial property and apartments in the upper level. The city said the $8 million investment plan looked promising prior to the fire.

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