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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 02:11 am

Back to the future in Enos Park

We need city cooperation to go from blight to bright

In the late 1800s it was known as the “Jewel of Springfield”! A hundred years later in 1997 it was officially classified as a “blighted community” qualified to establish its own TIF district. In 2003 it became the geographical “heart” of the Mid-Illinois Medical District. Today it’s a neighborhood struggling to regain the image of its historic past while defining its role in Springfield’s future as a leading medical center. It’s Enos Park!

The challenge ahead involves reversing the plight of the unique, single-family homes which once belonged to a positive mix of professional and blue-collar residents. Over time these homes were cut up into multi-unit rental properties. Today there are three times as many rental properties as there are single-family homes. With the disproportionate number of rental properties came an increase in drugs, prostitution and crime. At the bottom of the downward spiral are the remains of once beautiful homes, now boarded and dilapidated.

To regain the past glory of its neighborhood, the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association is rewinding the clock to go “back to the future.” The process must start with the elimination of boarded houses. The city currently has an ordinance that requires boarded houses to be registered. An initial $100 fee is good for six months and includes an inspection before boarding. Each succeeding three months, owners must pay a $250 renewal permit fee. What was intended to regulate the process, generate money for the city, and, most importantly, create a financial incentive to get owners to fix up their property, has done none of these. The city is not consistent in requiring owners of vacant or dilapidated property to pay for boarding permits. They do not actively try to collect the quarterly renewal fees, which alone could add $250,000 a year to the city’s depleted budget and create the financial pressure needed to get owners to demolish or rehab their buildings.

If the city would aggressively and consistently pursue the boarding permit policy, Enos Park could help the property owners in other ways. The Enos Park TIF district has approximately $1 million to be used for just this purpose, eliminating blight. If owners have given up on their property, EPNIA, as a not-for-profit corporation, would be able to accept the property as a donation and provide a tax write-off. All of these possibilities exist but as a neighborhood we can’t wish it done. We need the same enthusiasm and commitment to save a neighborhood of 500 homes as was shown to save one home, the Maisenbacher property. Finding the tipping point to convert Enos Park into the location of choice for new families and staff associated with the medical district is the bright spot. But we must eliminate blight before we can get to bright.

Steve Combs is president of the Enos Park

Neighborhood Improvement Association.

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