NORMAL — The former Sprague's service station is almost ready for its long-awaited close-up.
With the Route 66 attraction at 305 Pine St. to open this spring, Normal's Historic Preservation Commission approved three steps Tuesday to improve the exterior: tuck-pointed bricks on the front canopy and repaired stucco and half-timbering, funded from a $16,000 grant arranged by caretaker Terri Ryburn.
That work is expected to be completed by May. Officials said last year they hoped to open the attraction in April, but the latest word is now "spring."
"We have until June 20 (for spring)," said Ryburn with a laugh.
The project could come back to the commission before then for approval of replica gas tanks to be placed out front and for an exterior sign, said Town Planner Mercy Davison.
The town, which owns the property, is also rehabbing the inside, including replacing bathrooms with new ones that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After the property has opened, they'll remove parts of the building to the south and west added after it was constructed in 1931.
Ryburn said she has vendors lined up for her gift shop, which will serve as the visitor's center for the property. She plans to stock products made in the United States and handmade gifts from Bloomington-Normal artists, including soap and jewelry, in the former cafe and office sections.
Ryburn still hopes to host music, plays and meetings in the building. Future construction work includes replacing the mechanical garage door on the part of the property to be salvaged.
"We are saving as much as we can," said Ryburn, who bought the building in 2006 and has fought water damage to the interior. "As much as we can, we will be authentic to the period."
The City Council signed off last May on spending $229,000 to buy the property, $200,000 to improve the building, $24,000 to buy an adjoining parking lot and $5,000 to compensate Ryburn for her work. The town has also renovated that parking lot with $148,000 in sales tax funds for economic development.
Under the deal, Ryburn gets out from under a $229,000 mortgage; receives $29,000; and has 10-year options to operate the building's gift shop and continue living on the second floor for $120 per year.