By Patrick Yeagle

The Springfield City Council on Tuesday approved the use of $757,800 from the city’s downtown TIF to pay for repair of the roof at Springfield’s Municipal Center East.

The TIF request was one of three forwarded to the city council by the Springfield Economic Development Commission (EDC) on Tuesday.

At a special meeting on July 11, the city council briefly discussed an ordinance approving the TIF money for roof repairs. Although the debate on Tuesday took less than 10 minutes, discussion on the proposal dates back to February, during the city’s budget process. Aldermen voted at the time to sweep $750,000 that had been earmarked for roof repairs from the city’s capital improvements fund to help balance the budget. Filling the $4 million budget gap also involved raising new revenue by increasing certain taxes.

At the EDC meeting earlier on Tuesday, Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan, Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer asked the commission to approve the TIF request, saying the repairs were already delayed once. Donelan noted that repairing existing public buildings is an allowable use under the state TIF statute.

Commission members debated the request before passing it 4-1. Michelle Ownbey, a commission member who also serves as publisher of Springfield Business Journal, was the lone vote against the request, citing concerns about public perception of TIF as a slush fund. Although he ultimately voted for it, commissioner Joe Bascio, business manager for Springfield Public Schools, voiced concern about TIF being used for projects which don’t further economic development. Commissioner Brad Schaive, business manager for Laborers Local 477, said concerns about setting a bad precedent are legitimate, but the roof repair is a one-time cost, and the  commission always has the option to deny future projects in the same vein.

William McCarty, director of the city’s Office of Budget and Management, said Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder actually opposed the TIF request, instead preferring to use some of the remaining infrastructure bond money in the city’s capital fund for roof repairs. McCarty said Langfelder shared concerns about using TIF for non-economic development projects.

The roof repair was competitively bid. The contractors for the project are Evans-Mason, Inc., Henson Robinson Company and The Garland Company, Inc.

At its Tuesday meeting, the commission also forwarded to the city council a request for $165,000 from the city’s Office of Public Works. The money would be used to study the feasibility and cost of converting several downtown streets from one-way to two way.

Public works director Mark Mahoney said the streets being considered for conversion are Monroe, Washington, Adams, Fourth and Seventh streets. He added that Fifth and Sixth streets would probably remain two-way for now because their traffic is closer to the 10,000-vehicle threshold at which two-way streets are useful. The conversions would extend beyond the boundaries of downtown, into nearby neighborhoods.

Mahoney said the city already needs to replace several aging traffic signals downtown, among other infrastructure needs, so it makes sense to complete those upgrades as part of the conversion process. The cost could range from about $7 million on the high end to about half of that on the low end, Mahoney said.

Lisa Stott, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., said her organization supports the idea.

“When you look across the country at other cities like ours, they have all moved back to two-way traffic,” she said. “…It’s just a modern solution. A lot of cities across the country tried this one-way thing, and it just doesn’t work they way they thought it would.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the request, meaning it now goes to the city council for final approval.

The Springfield Art Association also requested $146,000 from the Enos Park TIF on Tuesday for an expansion project at its headquarters. The group’s total TIF request would be about $420,000. The commission voted unanimously to forward the request to the city council.

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