The Springfield Economic Development Commission today approved a plan by the City of Springfield to purchase a vacant downtown building with TIF funds.
The proposal would mean an empty building occupied but taken off the property tax rolls, raising questions from some commission members about its sustainability and the city’s standards for approving TIF.
Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder wants to purchase the former surveyors museum at 521 E. Washington in downtown Springfield using $425,000 in tax increment finance money. The building would house the headquarters of the Springfield NAACP, which currently doesn’t have an official office, along with a Springfield police officer, an office for the University of Illinois-Springfield and production space for Springfield’s cable access channel run by Benedictine University.
Langfelder said the plan would put Springfield at the forefront of race relations and human relations by housing the NAACP and a neighborhood police officer together.
The commission voted 5-2 to forward the plan to the Springfield City Council, which is scheduled to consider it tonight. However, some commission members questioned the proposal before voting.
William Furling, a Springfield developer and commission member, said other developers have complained to him about a double standard by the city when approving TIF awards. Furling said there is a perception that the city “raids” the TIF fund for its own projects but holds developers to different standards for details required and a project’s overall value.
“I think it’s more perception than fact,” Furling said. “But the rumor I hear among developers is that they’re concerned some procedures aren’t followed for city projects.”
Langfelder objected to that characterization, but he also admitted that he doesn’t know whether there will be further cost to build offices inside the building, or whether that would require the commission to approve further TIF funding.
Mark Vance, senior vice president at Carrollton Bank and a member of the commission, questioned the wisdom of using TIF money on a project which will generate no further TIF money. Vance, who ultimately voted against the proposal, asked whether the city courted a private developer to spearhead the project.
He referenced a different project approved by the commission earlier at the same meeting, in which the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, The Springfield Project and a developer from Rock Island are purchasing the empty Methodist church building at 501 E. Capitol Ave. to serve as mixed-use office and residential space. That project asked the city for $985,000 in TIF money, but it will remain on the property tax rolls.
Langfelder said the project is a matter of timing. An appraisal from 2013 valued the building at $700,000, but the city would pay $425,000. The building was most recently listed for sale at $490,000.
“I don’t think a developer would come forward and bankroll it because the parties we’re partnering with don’t have the resources at this point in time to do it,” he said.
Langfelder also noted that the national NAACP started because of the 1908 Springfield race riot, yet the Springfield NAACP has no office here.
“You can call me a good-hearted person or a socialist – whatever you want,” he said. “Really, I think it’s important for the City of Springfield to show that we should put forward this effort because of our history of race relations.”
The Springfield City Council would have to approve the funding before the city could claim the TIF funds. The council is slated to consider the proposal at its meeting tonight.
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