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PROSPECT ADVOCATE HOMES SAVED
Wendell Hess of Normal stood in front of a home he purchased and is renovating along Prospect Avenue in Normal on Tuesday May 10, 2011. Hess, along with Dennis and Mary Cottier, have purchased six homes along Prospect, from Advocate BroMenn Medical Center with plans to renovate and sell the homes. (The Pantagraph/STEVE SMEDLEY)

NORMAL — Dennis and Mary Cottier love old houses and the opportunity to give them a new lease on life through renovations.

They’ve tackled several around the Twin Cities through the years, but nothing compares to their latest venture. The Cottiers are the new owners of five houses formerly owned by Advocate BroMenn Medical Center on the west side of Prospect Avenue.

Wendell Hess purchased the sixth home on the block. Hess, who lives on nearby Highland Avenue, was instrumental in helping craft a deal with Advocate to ultimately return the homes to the single-family market.

“I think the neighborhood is thrilled,” said Nancy Armstrong, president of the Broadview Neighborhood Association. “We’re excited that no one is intending to tear them down. … They have a chance to come back as attractive homes with people living in them. That’s what every neighborhood wants.”

The properties have been part of Advocate’s plat since 1989 and at one time hospital officials hoped to raze them and put in a parking lot. A neighborhood covenant prevented that action but had no control over the condition of the houses, some of which were in great disrepair and were being used as storage.

“Two of the houses had 52 units of shelving,” Cottier said.

Through the years, neighbors tried in vain to negotiate a selling price with hospital officials, but Hess said that changed when Colleen Kannaday became the hospital’s president.

“I have to give much credit to Colleen Kannaday,” said Hess. “She came in with fresh eyes and no agenda. There still was a long way to go. Everybody compromised.”

Hospital officials, the neighborhood and the town worked together to make it happen.

“It’s been a great pleasure to work with both our neighbors and the town of Normal to transition the houses back into the neighborhood,” said Kannaday. “We look forward to welcoming wonderful new neighbors to our block as these homes are renovated.”

Hess said several people were interested in buying and rehabilitating the houses but most wanted to convert them to apartments or condos — options not allowed by the covenant.

“The reason the Cottiers ended up with the houses: They convinced all of us they were the right people with the right values, the time and the resources to do the work in a timely fashion,” he said.

Dennis Cottier said when they walked through the houses: “We were definitely interested. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle.”

While the houses have not always had the tender care of a homeowner, they still have many of their original turn-of-the-century features, including built-in cabinets with glass knobs; window seats; antique light fixtures; a fold-away ironing board in one kitchen wall; and an original bathroom faucet.

The Cottiers hope to finish the renovations on 1215 and 1217 Prospect within three months. They also want to complete outside work on all the properties before winter. The rest of the renovations will take longer — possibly a year.

Hess also has started work on 1301 Prospect — it’s getting a new roof, front steps, gutters and downspouts and landscaping outside and renovated kitchen and bathrooms inside. He hopes to have it ready for sale by this fall.

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