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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 02:57 pm

Game of charrettes

Sounds as if there’s a lot of work to do to bring life to the derelict Pillsbury site

Here are some of the ideas proposed last week for the old Pillsbury Mill site: fancy apartments, an agricultural museum, a biodiesel plant, a casino, a movie theater, a biotechnology-research center, a skate park, a clinic, an amphitheater, a microbrewery, a storage area, a grocery store, and a vocational-training center. A Methodist minister tossed in the idea of building a church; a Springfield cop suggested a strip club. Working in small groups, participants in a planning process known as a charrette kicked around ideas and discussed the challenges of transforming the derelict industrial property on the east side of town into . . . whatever they want.
The consensus? Whatever becomes of the site, the land should be mixed-use, create jobs, and, perhaps to the dismay of the good reverend, increase the city’s tax base, all while using “green” design principles. As these stakeholders discussed design principles and the possibility of tax-increment financing, neighborhood residents Roy and Robert (they would not give last names), held a brainstorming session of their own, separate from the charrette. The pair said they had heard about the redevelopment plan on the radio but didn’t know about the meeting at Lanphier High School on Friday. However, the men offered Illinois Times their opinions of some of the ideas offered at the meeting. How about a biodiesel plant? “Man, hell no! They trying to blow us up. Just look at what happened in Decatur,” fired Robert, alluding to last year’s deadly explosion at Formosa Plastics, which occurred in Illiopolis, not Decatur. He stood his ground even at the prospect of new jobs in the area. High-end condominiums? Nope. “If they turn that into condos, the community don’t get no money out of that,” Robert said. “You not gonna create no jobs. You just puttin’ the money back in the pocket of the man that sold it.” Cargill owns the property. Instead, they suggested — as did several participants in the charrette — a mix of affordable apartments and shopping. Roy expressed particular concern for his elderly neighbors who now must either walk or take a cab several blocks to North Grand Avenue to buy sundries. “That way, they can roll they li’l carts right to the store,” he said. Officials from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency have said that that’s the kind of input they want from people, many of them poor, who live in the area near the mill. Nearly everyone at Friday’s planning session agreed that community members should benefit from the project as much as the developers who will build there or the city will. The total cost depends on the type of project the community chooses. The St. Louis-based architectural firm and Chicago-based law firm who hosted the charrette in conjunction with the IEPA will prepare a summary report by the end of the year, according to IEPA programs advisor Heather Nifong. The report will be available to present to the public in January. In the meantime, Nifong says community members can call her and offer their suggestions. More than likely, though, at least the silos will remain standing. Too many people commented on the intrinsic beauty of the industrial site, developed just before the Great Depression. Removing the silos would be unpopular, not to mention costly. These structures were built to last — estimates of the cost to raze them have ranged from $1 million to $12 million. (Roy and Robert, who helped demolish Springfield’s Fiat-Allis manufacturing plant years ago, say that they would love to help tear the Pillsbury silos down, if it comes to that.) However, implosion would also likely create environmental hazards, which the IEPA would try to mitigate. The silos, which once stored grain before it was ground into flour, are coated with asbestos. Plus, Robert asserted, the silos, unused for more than four years, are teeming with rats that will surely scurry to his and others’ homes just across the street: “What they gonna do, put up a big net to catch ’em?”
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