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Wednesday, April 29, 2009 01:02 am

Inner city blues

Citizens question city’s commitment to central city

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Has the city forgotten about the central core of Springfield, including the MacArthur Boulevard (pictured) and South Grand East corridors?
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

For anyone who thought that the federal stimulus plan would be manna for the needs of city and state governments, think again.

Jim Moll, project manager for Hanson Professional Services, put it into perspective last week at a policy briefing sponsored by the Springfield Citizens Club: of the $787 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, funding for just two projects totaling about $4 million trickled down to Springfield.

“By the time it gets to us, it’s pretty trickly,” Moll said.

The purpose of the meeting, held Friday at the Hoogland Center, was to discuss priorities for Springfield’s portion of the stimulus money, which prompted questions about the commitment of city leaders to revitalizing the city’s central core.

Larry Golden, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, pointed out that both of Springfield’s approved projects — reconstructing the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Old Jacksonville Road and repairing the pavement and shoulders along Old Jacksonville Road from Koke Mill Road to Farmingdale Road — are located west of Chatham Road.

“Are we building an all new city?,” Golden asked panelists, which included Moll, Mayor Tim Davlin’s executive assistant Jim Donelan, and Jim Roth from engineering consulting firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly. “Springfield is becoming the east side as we used to know it.”

Other projects, which will receive $780,000 in stimulus money, are slated for Chatham and Sherman, while Sangamon County is still deciding how to spend a $500,000 appropriation.

Audience members questioned the commitment of the city’s elected leadership to redevelopment efforts in older areas of the city, particularly east Springfield.

Donelan, also secretary of the Citizens Club, jumped to his boss’s defense, saying, “Mayor Davlin is committed. I really mean that.”

“The mayor and every alderman want to see east Springfield developed,” Donelan told Illinois Times after the meeting, adding: “There are a lot of things Mayor Davlin has done that we don’t talk enough about. But it’s not about the credit, it’s about getting things done.”

He also noted during the meeting that the city will also receive $337,000 in community development block grants, $517,000 for homelessness prevention, and $1.2 million for energy studies and upgrades at City Water Light and Power. Additionally, the city will split about $1 million with the county for new police equipment.

However, Donelan added, the city still needs about $40 million for various projects, including $12 million to finish Capitol Avenue’s makeover, $6 million for Oak Ridge Cemetery repaving, $9 million for Cockrell Lane, $3 million for a railroad consolidation study, another $3 million for Stanford Avenue, and $5 million for the Sangamon County trail. Funds are also needed to construct a new county public health facility and for the possible expansion of the Prairie Capital Convention Center, he said.

There just needs to be “something to pull it all together,” Donelan said.

One solution might come under a plan submitted by Mike Zahn of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 965 to the city council’s infrastructure subcommittee. Zahn’s proposal included a 2 percent dining tax and a one-quarter percent sales tax hike. Added with revenues from the hotel tax, which was raised last year, the plan is expected to generate $16 million in additional revenue for the city.

However it gets done, residents say they want to see action. Said Citizens Club member and management consultant Kenley Wade: “As long as you wait for the stars to be aligned, nothing will happen.”

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

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