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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 12:06 am

Spreading the wealth

City mulls Far East TIF expansion

Springfield visitors who take the South Grand Avenue exit off Interstate 72 may think they’ve ended up in Detroit instead of Illinois’ capital.

If those same visitors make a right on to 16th Street, they’ll find themselves in the heart of the east side, where a residential street resembles a mouth with few teeth. With decaying houses found in between overgrown bushes and piles of rubbish, it’s easy to see why people from out of town may think they’ve made a wrong turn.

Plans to spur economic development on the east side of Springfield continue, and discussions about the city’s proposal to redraw the borders of the Far East Side tax increment financing (TIF) district were held during a Nov. 28 Joint Review Board Meeting.

The Far East Side TIF balance is $2.6 million, with $300,000 of the money equally divided and earmarked for a homeowners’ rehabilitation fund, a down payment assistance fund for first responders to purchase homes and improvements to Boyd’s New Generation, 1831 South Grand Ave. E., according to the annual report from the last fiscal year. The other $2.3 million has been allocated to Public Works uses.

The Far East Side TIF, established in 1995, has generated just over $7.8 million so far and was recently extended until 2030. Springfield officials have been studying the TIF’s current borders and believe extending the coverage area could better serve residents.

City TIF Administrator Abby Powell said the plan to expand the TIF’s boundaries is still in its infancy; homeowners as well as business owners in the area are being asked to come to the table with any ideas they have.

“Right now, we’re in a preplanning phase,” Powell said. “We hope to begin acting on this in early 2019.”
The current boundaries resemble a rectangle on a map, running from South Grand Avenue to Cook Street and from 14th Street to Shackleford Drive. Under the proposed plan, the TIF district would begin on East Pine Street and expand to Madison Street, touching the Central Area and Madison TIF borders.

TIF districts have been used throughout the city for a variety of reasons, but the main focus of using TIF funding is to attract development into an area that has been defined as blighted, according to state statute. Most importantly, the city must receive a yes vote from the Illinois General Assembly to impose the redrawn border.

Gail Simpson, former Ward 2 Alderman, said extending the TIF is ideal and should have been done a long time ago. Simpson is currently running to regain her seat on the council.

“It’s the first impression visitors get when they come into the city,” Simpson said. “We need to do better.”
Mike Pittman, chair of the city’s economic development commission, said the city needs to incentivize businesses in the Far East TIF expansion area to build it up economically. However, he said it also needs to come from the residents who reside in the immediate area. “They need to take more ownership,” Pittman said. “I think it’s imperative they start creating a community; a block at a time, a business at a time, or 10 houses at a time.”

The Far East Side and Enos Park TIFs are different from the other seven primarily commercial TIF districts around the city, offering homeowners in the East Side and Enos Park districts a 50/50 matching grant for exterior rehabilitation to homes.

While the Far East and Enos Park TIF districts have struggled with numerous dilapidated rental properties, Powell said 80 percent of those living in the proposed expansion area are homeowners. Some of the homes in the expansion area have been maintained, but there are many homes that are either vacant or give the impression that the owners abandoned these properties years ago.

The proposed boundaries extension also includes vacant lots the city has acquired. Powell said the city hopes to use the land to encourage new construction in the area, but one of the challenges is that the construction itself would cost more than the house would appraise for once complete.

Ward 2 Alderman Herman Senor said the boundary extension is a good idea in theory, but he is apprehensive about the city reaching its goal through the proposed boundaries.

He said his biggest concern is the fund won’t make a difference because people won’t be aware that the assistance exists, or they simply won’t be eligible for the funds.

“It’s got to be marketed, it’s got to be accepted and it’s got to be used,” Senor said.

Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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