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Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 10:53 pm

No parking

YMCA boosters, St. John's can't make deal

A glitch has emerged over development of a new downtown YMCA at the edge of Enos Park on Fourth and Carpenter streets.

Joe Hurwitz, project developer, told the Springfield City Council on Thursday that St. John’s Hospital has refused to part with a parcel across the street from the proposed gym that had been planned as parking area. Now, Hurwitz said, project backers want to establish a satellite parking lot east of the proposed gym that would be separated from the planned facility by land that St. John’s won’t give up.

The gym would be built with help from Memorial Medical Center, a competitor to St. John’s Hospital, which has agreed to contribute $10 million toward the project, which would cost about $35 million. The city has agreed to contribute nearly $6 million in tax increment financing funds, and a $7 million fundraising effort, Hurwitz told the council, has realized nearly $5 million. Bank financing and tax credits are also in the offing, Hurwitz said, with groundbreaking expected in mid-June.

Hurwitz told the council that YMCA backers first asked St. John’s to contribute both cash and land for the parking lot in exchange for playing a lead role in developing the new gym. When that didn’t work, Hurwitz said, backers asked St. John’s to donate land for the parking lot in exchange for naming rights equal to the market value of the land.

“Lastly, we asked if they would just sell us the ground,” Hurwitz said. “They would not sell us the ground. … Quite frankly, we were a little taken aback that that didn’t work out better. For whatever reason, they have declined to participate in the project at every level that we asked.”

Catie Sheehan, St. John’s spokeswoman, said that the hospital remains willing to make a deal to provide parking for gym users.

“We’ve not been able to come to an agreement on this issue; to characterize this as a refusal to donate property is simply incorrect,” Sheehan wrote in a text message. “We acquired this land and other parts of the medical district with the intention of growing our services and developing better ways for patients and their families to receive care.”

In an interview, Sheehan said that she’s not aware of any specific plans that St. John’s has for the land. “We have to make decisions wisely and we have to figure out what we’re going to do,” she said.

After presenting a status report on the development to the council, Hurwitz said he doesn’t know why St. John’s hasn’t agreed to a deal. “You’d have to ask them,” he said.

Sheehan said that the fact that Memorial and St. John’s compete for patients isn’t a factor in the failure to reach agreement for parking at a gym that likely would bear Memorial’s name, given the hospital’s funding commitment. “I don’t think that’s it at all,” Sheehan said.

Ward 5 Ald. Andrew Proctor, whose ward includes the site of the proposed gym, said that St. John’s and Memorial have worked together in the past to provide health services to residents of Enos Park. “I just don’t understand why this case can’t follow that same track of cooperation,” Proctor said. “I’m kind of disappointed that St. John’s wouldn’t participate in that regard.”

After the council meeting, Mayor Jim Langfelder said that he plans on meeting with St. John’s officials about the issue. The mayor said he wasn’t blaming anyone, but he was critical that the parking issue surfaced in the way it did during Thursday’s meeting.

“That (trying to broker an agreement with St. John’s) was my intent, but what do you think the chances are after tonight?” the mayor said. “This is a positive project, and that’s how it should be looked at.”

The YMCA has reached an agreement with the state for the existing gym at Fourth and Cook streets to be torn down and the land turned over to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which runs the nearby Dana Thomas House. Under terms of the agreement between the YMCA and the state, the property would be used as a parking lot or a park.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described an arrangement between the state and the YMCA for land where the current gym now operates.

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