Decatur Magazine – June/July 2015
Brush College Road.
When we drive this road, chances are we pay little attention to its landscape. We scoot past non-descript industrial buildings and smokestacks; move through steam; bump over some railroad tracks; and maneuver a narrow viaduct. Most days, a few sniffs tell us that Archer Daniels Midland and Tate & Lyle plants are operating at full capacity.
Brush College Road, which connects Interstate 72 at the north end to Lake Decatur at the south, is also a regular route for local business owner and entrepreneur Tony Caccomo, who’s driven it many times since moving to Decatur in 2010 from Poughkeepsie, New York.
The first time he drove this 3.8-mile corridor, Caccomo was so awed that over the course of the past five years, he’s invited former colleagues in the commercial industrial real estate and food industries to visit Decatur and take a spin with him.
“I’d ask them, ‘do you see what I see, or am lover-hyping it?’ recalls Caccomo, owner of My Shipping Place and Antonio’s Gourmet Shop on Pershing Road.” And they all came away with the same
impression – ‘wow.’
“I’ve (negotiated) real estate deals in about 36 states, and what’s in Decatur is absolutely mind-boggling,” he adds. “The Brush College Road corridor is among the strongest, most diversified industrial strips
I‘ve seen anywhere in the country.
“I call it Decatur’s – and Illinois’ – billion dollar gateway.” (Caccorno recently trademarked the slogan, “Illinois’ Billion Dollar Gateway.”®)
First, Brush College is a stretch literally lined in gold: Archer Daniels Midland and Tate & Lyle national headquarters; the Midwest Inland Port; Richland Community College; Progress City; Caterpillar lnc., ADM’s J.R. Randall Research and Development Lab; Brush College Industrial Park; Parke Warehouse; and Archer Daniel Midland’s West Refinery – all complemented by an array of smaller industrial
Second, this road is book-ended by two of Decatur’s greatest assets: Lake Decatur, which thanks to recent dredging projects provides an abundant, long-term water source for residents and industries; and Interstate 72, an uncongested link for one-day round trip drives to three major metropolitan markets – Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
“I think Brush College is largely taken for granted by Decatur residents,” says Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur/Macon County. “When you drive this stretch, you experience some of the largest industries in the state and country, along with Richland Community College, a key partner in economic development, and ADM’s J.R. Randall Research and Development Center, which is a center for world-wide, ground- breaking science.”
This April, Caccomo, former co-owner of Hudson Valley Foodworks (HVF), one of the country’s earliest and largest incubator commercial kitchens, claimed his space along Decatur’s billion dollar gateway. He and business partner Jim Milano purchased the former Brush College School building, which will serve as headquarters of National Foodworks Services (NFS), an incubator commercial kitchen/co- packing facility that begins operations this summer.
With specialized services and equipment targeted to food entrepreneurs, the 40,000-square foot food production facility will include a bakery, wet kitchen, and storage. Its designation as a co- packing facility means capabilities to ship directly from where products are produced.
His investment ties directly to what Caccomo says are more jewels in Decatur’s crown: Location and an easily accessible transportation network.
“What I saw in Decatur just shocked me,” says Caccomo, whose college major was transportation. “Decatur is like the land between the highways – an undiscovered treasure. Everybody travels Chicago to Springfield on Interstate 55, and Chicago to Champaign on Interstate 57. But when they’re doing that, they’re going vectors away from Decatur.”
What Caccomo initially discovered in this “land between the Interstates” was the ease with which he could travel east and west from Decatur to destinations such as Cleveland, Davenport, Des Moines, and St. Louis. On average, he says, it takes about eight minutes to get off or on to Interstate 72. This could compare to an hour or more on interstates around Chicago.
When he presents at national food industry trade shows on behalf of NHS, Caccomo touts Decatur, too. In fact, at a Chicago trade show this spring, he says Senator Dick Durbin was stopped in his tracks by a trifold display Caccomo created to illustrate Decatur’s prime location. Specifically: A total of 22 million consumers in six states (a 200-mile radius) are within a one-day round trip from Decatur; and nearly 100 million consumers in 22 states (a 500-mile radius), lie within a one- day truck drive.
The Midwest Inland Port is key to enhancing Decatur’s location advantage. Although in its beginning phases, McCrady says the Port already is positioning the community as a hub for destinations around the world.
“We’ll see more industrial parks developing along Brush College Road with spurs that run directly to manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution property owners, allowing them access to the inland ports from their property,” says McCrady.
Caccomo takes the vision one step further, predicting a food industrial park along Brush College.
The billion dollar gateway itself will undergo a major facelift in the near future. An $83 million improvement project calls for an overpass to carry traffic over the Norfolk Southern Corporation rail yard and Faries Parkway, and widening of the William Street intersection. The City of Decatur has an approved design concept and currently is preparing construction documents. The three-phased construction project will start within three to five years, with possible completion by 2022.
“Improvements will benefit passenger traffic, interaction with rail traffic and, in general, will provide more efficient travel through the corridor, which is essential for economic development,” says McCrady.
“This is a very large and complicated project, but the good news is that it’s nothing Decatur hasn’t done before. The Staley Viaduct was about the same scale and was comparable in cost.”
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, Caccomo says launching a business in Decatur is akin to “being dropped in a candy shop.”
“Rail and truck access here is unbelievable, and I’m sitting right next door to a world-class research facility.
“I may be opening one door with NFS, but it represents hundreds of windows of opportunity.”
Why “Brush College?”
Brush College Road may owe its name to a witty pioneer who lived near what is now our “billion dollar gateway” in the late 1800s.
In 1853, a one-room school – the predecessor to Brush College School – was built on the corner of what is now Highway 105 and Brush College Road, near Spangler Cemetery. It was named Shepperd School, in honor of Steve R. Shepperd who was a mounted volunteer from Macon County in the Blackhawk War of 1832.
According to a school history, compiled in 1974, a pioneer took note of the dense buck brush and thickets that surrounded the small schoolhouse and jokingly dubbed it “Brush College.”
At first, the descriptor was only a nickname. But patrons latched on to it, and by 1901, the school was known as Brush College School. City directories indicate that Brush College Road was named around 1927 or 1928.
Also notable: According to School Trustees records, Brush College may have been the first school in Macon County to be supported by public taxation.
(Source credit: Rebecca Damptz, Local History Librarian/Archivist, Decatur Public Library.)