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Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006 01:18 am

"Only one vision"

Mayor says city hasn't endorsed developer's East Side plan

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin has weighed in on a proposed initiative to redevelop part of the city’s East Side by reassuring residents in a letter that the city has not backed the idea.

The proposal, known as Raising South Grand Avenue, “is only one private developer’s vision,” Davlin writes, referring to Mike Suhadolnik, head of CX Construction of Central Illinois.

The letter continues: “The City of Springfield is reviewing this plan, and has not endorsed this project for your neighborhood. Further, we encourage residents to become involved and seriously consider both public and private revitalization efforts that may be of benefit to your area.

“We applaud private sector efforts to redevelop areas of Springfield in need of residential improvements, but again, we have not endorsed the Raising South Grand Avenue initiative on the city’s east side.”

Suhadolnik wants to revive an eight-block area bounded by Martin Luther King Drive and Pope, Brown, and Pine streets — parts of which were demolished by tornadoes this spring and others in various states of disrepair after years of neglect.

Raising South Grand Avenue, which carries an estimated cost of $5.5 million, calls for the remodeling of some houses and the construction of some two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes, ranging in size from 800 to 2,000 square feet.

On Monday, the Sangamon County Democratic Minority Caucus held a community meeting intended to serve as a question-and-answer session, but it devolved into a shouting match at times.

“It was a tough meeting; I still have to let it sink in,” Suhadolnik says.

Some homeowners have complained that Suhadolnik is keeping details of the plan too close to his vest.

“We’re not trying to be contrary; just tell us the truth,” says Edna Piphus, who lives on East Pine Street.

Luann Hickman — who, like many others in the neighborhood, has spent her entire life on the East Side — has extensively remodeled the inside of her home because, she says, she can’t afford to move, and she warns against judging residents’ homes solely on the basis of their exteriors.

But Suhadolnik says he believes that a silent majority of residents back his proposal but aren’t as articulate as people such as Hickman.

“There’s got to be community involvement at all levels; otherwise it won’t work,” he says.

One important quarter in which there seems to be little support for the plan is City Hall. Last week, Jim Donelan, Davlin’s executive assistant, attended a neighborhood-association meeting to discuss the issue but wasn’t at Monday’s minority-caucus meeting.

Suhadolnik says he’s met with Davlin, Donelan, and economic-development director Mike Farmer.

Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, whose home would be affected by the proposal, says he was neither invited to the meeting nor asked by Suhadolnik for his input.

“I’m amazed, because it’s not like he doesn’t know who I am, and I find it interesting that he’s met with all these people and he hasn’t contacted me,” McNeil says.

Rebuilding the East Side isn’t going to happen overnight, McNeil says.

Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz says that East Side development plans are often controversial because developers in other parts of the city don’t typically need to ask the city for money and there’s usually no talk of condemning people’s property.

Although he’s baffled as to why Suhadolnik hasn’t asked for the city’s participation, Kunz says, “I’m not worried about it, because anything they do has to come before the council, and I’m not going to screw these people.”

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

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