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Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 12:07 am

Downtown church renovation moves ahead

But future uncertain for project on Monroe

While one downtown redevelopment project appears to be going full speed ahead, another might be facing an existential moment as Springfield officials ponder how to distribute tax increment financing subsidies.

Economic Growth Corporation, a company based in Rock Island that is renovating the former First United Methodist Church at the intersection of South Fifth Street and Capitol Avenue, won approval Tuesday from both an advisory commission and the city council to increase TIF financing from $985,000 to nearly $1.7 million. Company officials told the city’s Economic Development Commission and the city council that more funds are needed because rehabilitation costs are steeper than first contemplated and state financing has not been as robust as hoped.

“TIF is very critical and crucial for this project,” Amy Clark, multifamily development director for Economic Growth Corporation, told the development commission unanimously recommended that the city approve more TIF money, which would account for slightly less than 18 percent of redevelopment costs. The city council, which unanimously approved the increased allocation during a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Tuesday, is expected to give final approval next week.

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, now located on South Second Street, would be a key tenant. The chamber has committed to leasing space for a minimum of five years. “If we’re going to talk about downtown rehabilitation, we felt it was important to put our money where our mouth is,” said Chris Hembrough, chief executive officer and president of the chamber.

The project would also include 25 apartments, including nine two-bedroom units and 16 one-bedroom units that would rent for as much as $1,100 per month. In addition to space that would be occupied by the chamber, the property includes 1,300 square feet for commercial uses and an additional 1,500 square feet of space once used as a kitchen.

Sources say that Lincoln Land Community College is interested in leasing the kitchen space for culinary classes. Clark said that she was not prepared to answer whether the college might lease space. Lynn Whalen, LLCC spokeswoman, confirmed that the college might sign a deal, but it’s far from a sure thing. “We are aware of that as an opportunity and we do have some limited grant funding for an incubator kitchen,” Whalen wrote in an email. “However, this is still in the conceptual phase. No determination has been made on whether we will move forward with this concept, and so there has been no commitment on any space.”

Michelle Ownbey, a commission member who is also publisher of Illinois Times, endorsed increased TIF funding for the building during Tuesday’s commission meeting, noting that the increased allocation is still within a policy of not providing more than 30 percent of improvement costs via TIF funding.

“In this case, what’s the alternative?” Ownbey said. “We can let the church sit and do demolition by neglect.”

Mayor Jim Langfelder during Tuesday’s commission meeting said that a decision is nearing on future TIF money for Bright New Day, which has been allocated more than $1.9 million to develop commercial space and 17 apartments in two buildings at the intersection of Monroe and South Sixth streets. The city approved the money five years ago, but no apartments are ready for lease, and developer Rick Lawrence acknowledges that the project has proven more complicated and expensive than first envisioned.

“It’s been stuck,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been trying to get it unstuck. We’re talking to the city, and they’ve been positive about helping where they can.”

Lawrence said that he has two model apartments ready and tenants ready to lease others, but he has had difficulty constructing an elevator that would operate between the two buildings and provide access to living space. He said that he’s used about half of the $1.9 million that the city already has granted in TIF money.

Langfelder told the commission that he wants to meet by the end of September to determine whether the city should grant more funds for the project. Lawrence said that he needs the money.

“TIF money is an important part of it,” Lawrence said. “I remain positive. It’s a good project.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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