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Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 01:05 am

Opportunity of "flim-flam"?

Residents want more involvement with South Grand redevelopment plan

Cathy and Alphonso McKamey, both retired, consider themselves the new kids on the block. Although the couple has lived on East Pine for just 10 years, they say they’re as invested in the community as their neighbors who’ve lived there for five decades.

They admit that, rife with drug activity, the area could use cleaning up — even more so since a tornado tore through there on March 12.

Still, that’s no reason to bulldoze the whole neighborhood, they say. However, developer Mike Suhadolnik has a plan to at least flatten part of the area.

Now that $12 million in federal funds has been dedicated to “dolling up” Capitol Avenue, Suhadolnik says, a similar commitment to developing the East Side isn’t likely to happen without some intense prodding of government officials.

Called Raising South Grand Avenue — an intentional play on the word “razing,” Suhadolnik’s plan calls for the redevelopment 317 lots in an area bounded by Martin Luther King Drive and Pope, Brown, and Pine streets.

Of the parcels with structures on them, Suhadolnik estimates, 44 are in reasonable condition, but 134 are beyond repair.

“Something radical needs to be done. Drive down Pine, and it looks like an alley,” Suhadolnik says.

In a letter to residents, Suhadolnik writes that the initiative is a “community effort about new streets and home ownership and not just a plan by some development company or governmental agency to evict people and tear down their homes.”

Under Suhadolnik’s proposal, neotraditional homes of 1,000 to 2,400 square feet, each with a basement, will be built in place of the ones that are torn down. Property owners could earn grants or zero-interest loans through TSP- HOPE, a nonprofit organization that specializes in community development and homeownership, the letter states.

According to initial numbers, which were presented to residents at a recent neighborhood-association meeting, the cost of purchasing lots, razing structures, hauling debris, removing trees, improving infrastructure, and landscaping is estimated at $5.5 million.

What worries the McKameys is the part of the plan that calls for 134 lots with structures to be purchased for an average of $10,000 each.

They believe that their home, like others on their block, is worth a lot more.

“They seem to think we should go blindly with this little plan — it’s a bunch of flimflam is what it is,” Cathy says.

Besides, adds Alphonso, “We don’t owe anyone. Why would we want to go back into debt?”

Suhadolnik says he understands the concerns of people such as the McKameys, with whom he plans to work one on one to assure them that his intent isn’t to arbitrarily “plow everybody’s house down.” Some properties can be renovated, he says, and $440,000 will be available to help people put new roofs on their homes, for example.

Getting information has been difficult, says Cathy McKamey, who would simply like to have more input, perhaps in the form of an advisory committee.

Sangamon County Board member Doris Turner, who will serve as a community liaison on the project, says that the project is still in its early stages and that many details need to be hammered out.

“We’re not trying to blindside anyone. We were trying to put together a better [information] package,” Turner says. “You never want to go into a situation where you create more questions than answers.”

But the deal has already left a bad taste in residents’ mouths.

The McKameys have started circulating petitions, and several neighbors have signed letters to Mayor Tim Davlin, Ward 2 Ald Frank McNeil, and U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Dick Durbin opposing the plan. Suhadolnik also plans to petition Durbin — to secure federal funding for the project.

Suhadolnik says he also asked for a half-million dollars each from 15 area banks, who first want the loan secured. Questions have been raised, most recently by Springfield aldermen, as to whether Suhadolnik — whose construction firm, Construx, sought bankruptcy protection in 2005 — is the right person to lead such a massive undertaking.

Having overseen $20 million of investment in development projects on Springfield’s East Side along with his wife, Maureen, Suhadolnik says that his record speaks for itself.

“Who doesn’t run into glitches?” he asks. “I know what I’m doing, and if I can’t get it done, no one can.”

Suhadolnik sees Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, in 2009, as an opportunity. The celebration is expected to thrust Springfield into the international spotlight, drawing past U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state to the capital city.

“Get South Grand fixed up before you go beating your chest about how proud you are of your son [Lincoln],” he says. “If it doesn’t happen by 2009, it won’t.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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