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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 04:12 am

Staying alive

Will the medical district get the cash it needs?

Untitled Document Four years after its inception, the Illinois Medical District at Springfield is like many new businesses: It has big plans and the potential to succeed. All it needs to succeed is some start-up money and effective marketing. A couple of pieces of legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Raymond Poe, R- Springfield, and pending in the Legislature, could provide both of those ingredients. One bill, introduced in February, would provide an infusion of $300,000 per year for 10 years from the state’s general-revenue fund; the other would change the name of the district, located just north of downtown Springfield, to the Mid-Illinois Medical District.
But if history is any indication, medical-district administrators might want to hold off on buying new office furniture. In last year’s Democratic-crafted budget, Springfield’s medical district was shut out, although districts in Chicago and East St. Louis both received funding. Those areas are represented by Democrats; Springfield’s representatives all belong to the minority Republican party. This time around — because no budget was passed before the end of the regular legislative session — Republicans now wield more influence over budget decisions, but budget negotiations with Gov. Rod Blagojevich continue at a snail’s pace. In the meantime, Poe remains cautiously optimistic. “If there’s not lot of new money for the state, it probably won’t make it, and, if there is some new money, then we might have a chance,” Poe says. Poe adds that he’s requested that his party’s leadership to raise the topic of medical-district funding during budget talks. As of press time on Wednesday, no further action had been taken on either bill. Springfield mayor Tim Davlin, a Democrat, says he’s lobbied top Democrats, including Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones, and deputy Majority Leader Gary Hannig. “This is of the utmost importance,” Davlin says. “I’ve put it down as my top priority for appropriations for this fiscal year.”
Until this point, state grants have funded the bulk of the preliminary planning for the district, which the legislature created in 2003. North Grand Avenue and Walnut, 11th, and Madison streets are its boundaries. An 11-member medical-district commission has the authority to lease, sell, and improve real estate in the area and may also finance projects using tax-exempt bonds. Part of the initial $300,000 grant went towards drafting a master plan, which the City Council approved in early 2006. The medical-district commission spent the remainder on creating a marketing plan. Another $50,000 grant to study traffic flow and plan landscaping went to the district last fall.
Michael Boer, president of the medical-district commission, says that additional funding is needed to cover start-up and operational costs, such as paying office staff and administrators and funding marketing activities. Without the money, he says, volunteers will continue running the district’s operations, at least for the foreseeable future. Boer says that he’s encouraged. “We made more opportunities this year to interact with folks on both sides of the aisle about why the legislative changes are important to realizing the potential that the district has,” Boer says. “People on both sides of the aisle were good enough to give us an audience to convince them of that.”

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