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Niles Trustee Insists Leaning Tower Can Be Saved

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Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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(CBS) — Village officials in Niles await the results of an engineering study that should tell them if perhaps its most famous local landmark can be saved.

Engineers have brought the 840-year-old Leaning Tower of Pisa back from the brink. Now, a $23,000 engineering study is being done to determine what is needed to save the 70-year-old concrete replica, just off Touhy Avenue in Niles.

Some say the concrete Niles tower is deteriorating so seriously that it should be torn down. Trustee Joe LoVerde said the village should think twice, for a variety of reasons.

“That would be a tremendous mistake,” LoVerde said. “When you’re the only city in the United States, or even the world, with a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you’ve got something.”

But the village doesn’t even own the property. It merely leases the tower and the surrounding plaza from the Leaning Tower YMCA.

The YMCA obtained the land in 1964 from the heirs of manufacturer Robert Ilg, under terms of an agreement that requires the YMCA to make regular repairs on the tower and to keep it in place at least through 2059. Otherwise, the land reverts to the Ilg family.

LoVerde says even though the village does not own the tower, it should make repairs, schedule events in the plaza and underwrite a marketing budget that can make it a tourist attraction again.

There’s precedent. He said the village paid for the 30-foot reflecting pool and fountains that have surrounded it for nearly 20 years.

Ilg had the 94-foot tower built to camouflage water filtration tanks. It has a built-in tilt of about 7 feet, but is not in danger of falling because it has a foundation anchored in solid concrete, unlike the sands and soft clay of Italy.

Nonetheless, as its condition has declined, public access to the tower has been restricted. LoVerde remembers when the curious could walk to the top and see the countryside.

He believes it would be a draw again.

“I don’t think it’s a choice,” he said.  “You have to repair it and it has to be saved.”