Work continues at old Pillsbury site, but owner won’t reveal plans

Tim Landis

A local salvage dealer continues to pull materials out of the old Pillsbury/Cargill plant on the northeast side of Springfield — including at least some asbestos — but the future of the facility remains a mystery. 

Ley Metals Recycling Inc. of Springfield has been hauling truckloads of materials from the plant for several weeks after purchasing the property from Cargill Corp. The plant has been vacant since closing in 2001. 

Owner Jim Ley has declined comment since purchasing the property, but residents in the area report work has been steady since mid-April. 

“At nine o’clock at night, you can hear machines going on over there. There’s no building demolition, but a lot of trucks are coming in and out of there,” said Ann Ridgeway, who has lived across the street from the plant for more than 20 years. 

The 10-story flour mill is in a city enterprise zone, which would qualify redevelopment for sales and property tax breaks, among other city incentives. The plant also has been the subject of economic development studies on ways it could be returned to usefulness. 

City economic development director Mike Farmer said, other than one early session, there have been no further discussions with Ley. 

“We haven’t heard any more from him,” Farmer said Monday. 

While the original plan was for removal of metals such as copper and iron, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson said about 215 square feet of asbestos-contaminated materials was removed from a control room last week. 

She said Ley filed the proper notification, including that additional asbestos removal is planned in August. 

“In addition, air-sampling equipment was on site during the removal, which was managed by a reputable, licensed company,” Carson said. A report also was filed with IEPA for review. 

City zoning administrator Joe Gooden said, other than improperly parked maintenance and storage trailers, the salvage operation has not been a problem.

“He (Ley) just needed to move them across the street (to the plant site), which he did,” Gooden said. 

State, county and city officials brought in outside consultants in 2005 for a neighborhood brainstorming session on potential uses for the old mill ranging from hotels to restaurants and retail shops to a railroad museum. 

However, Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, whose ward includes the Pillsbury/Cargill plant, intentionally avoided the meetings. 

“People should be told the truth. It was built as a flour mill in the 1920s, and that’s all it’s ever going to be,” Kunz said, who noted that a number of relatives, including his father, worked at the mill. 

Kunz said Ley has suggested the former grain silos might again be used for wheat storage, but that salvage is the immediate goal. 

“I just have a problem with raising people’s expectations. You can’t tear those silos down. They were built to withstand explosions,” he said. 

Pillsbury operated the plant from 1929 to 1991, when it was sold to Cargill.

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or