Legislation passes to help BOS Center expansion

County would have the ability to impose a 3% tax on hotel rooms

A bill recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly increases the likelihood a proposed $93 million expansion of Springfield's convention center will become reality, a state lawmaker says.

Legislation passes to help BOS Center expansion
State Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Springfield, has spearheaded the idea of a convention center expansion. He also chairs the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority Board, which governs operations at the BOS Center.
"I do think this project is something that will really benefit and save the downtown," state Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Springfield, told Illinois Times on June 3.

House Bill 3144, which passed the Illinois House and Senate in late May, would give the Sangamon County Board the ability to impose up to a 3% tax on gross rental receipts from hotels in the county to help finance the proposed expansion of the Bank of Springfield Center, Coffey said.

The provision would create the option for an additional long-term funding mechanism for the project, which Coffey said financial institutions have told county leaders they want before they would consider lending money to finance a BOS Center expansion.

The provision was inserted as one paragraph in a 181-page bill that would eliminate the state's 1% grocery tax and give local governments the ability to impose their own grocery taxes to make up for any resulting lost revenue.

When it comes to the section concerning the Sangamon County Board, the legislation says money from a new hotel room tax would have to be spent on "sports, arts or other entertainment or tourism facilities or programs" to promote tourism and job growth, as well as any other programs "for the general health and well-being of the citizens of the county."

The bill will soon head to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk for his signature.

The Sangamon County Board voted in December 2023 to form what is known as a "tourism improvement district" covering the entire county. A 2023 tweak in state law dealing with the districts that was pushed by state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, gave the Sangamon County Board the unique opportunity to form a district with a lifespan of 20 years rather than the five-year limit elsewhere in the state.

Current state law allows hotel representatives who will sit on a board that governs the Sangamon County Convention Center Tourism District to impose, and potentially suspend, a room tax. The tax would be paid by mostly out-of-town guests and would help fund convention center expansion.

Under HB 3144, the County Board would have the same authority. Coffey said representatives of financial institutions that issue bonds believe a funding mechanism to repay bonds would be more stable if the County Board, rather than hotel owners, were in control of the flow of tax revenue.

Owners of Springfield hotels were surprised that the legislation dealing with Sangamon County was introduced and passed, according to Darin Dame, president of the Springfield Hotel and Lodging Association.

"We are quite concerned and very confused," he said, adding that the association wasn't told why the Sangamon County paragraph was inserted in HB 3144. "We were kept in the dark the entire time," he said.

Dame declined to give the association's view of the legislation and said the group was awaiting a formal meeting with county officials.

Coffey referred Illinois Times to County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter for more information about Sangamon County government's support for the legislation.

Van Meter, a Springfield Republican, was unavailable for comment. But county spokesperson Jeff Wilhite emailed the newspaper a statement from Van Meter that said: "There are many components to this project, and we are still in the early stages of figuring out which components work best to get this project done. We sincerely appreciate the state's help providing as many tools as possible."

Coffey said he voted for HB 3144, along with about half of the House's 40 Republicans, because the main part of the bill would reduce the amount of taxes paid by his constituents.

He said he also supported the section creating more options for funding the proposed BOS Center expansion to bring more convention business to Springfield.

In addition to serving in the legislature, Coffey is a downtown restaurant owner and chairperson of the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority Board. The board governs operations at the BOS Center.

Coffey, who said he has spearheaded the idea of a convention center expansion, said the section about the Sangamon County Board likely was inserted at the request of Turner because Democrats control the Senate.

Illinois Times tried to reach Turner for this story, but she didn't return a phone call, and an aide said Turner didn't have time to speak to the newspaper this week.

It's unclear when or whether the expansion will happen. Construction would take place on a county-owned parking lot on the west side of Ninth Street and immediately south of the BOS Center.

Legislation passes to help BOS Center expansion
Looking southwest at the corner of Ninth and Adams streets, a preliminary rendering shows what a proposed expansion of the BOS Center could look like. The Sangamon County Board hopes to create a tourism improvement district to finance a $100 million expansion of the convention center.

County Administrator Brian McFadden has said the project – the expansion and a potential new hotel – would have an estimated $77 million economic impact. The project would add 232 permanent jobs to the BOS Center's current 175 part-time and full-time jobs.

The cost estimate for expansion, essentially doubling the convention center's size, came from a consulting firm called Conventions, Sports & Leisure International. CSL recommended any room rate surcharge be limited to 2% rather than the state-authorized limit of 5%.

CSL also recommended a new 300-bed hotel – which Coffey said would cost about $100 million – be constructed next to the expanded center to maximize the expansion's potential.

If a new room tax were limited to 2%, state assistance would be needed to help pay for BOS Center Expansion, McFadden said. Economic incentives for investors would be needed for any future public-private partnership to build a new hotel next to the BOS Center expansion, he said.

CSL said local leaders should consider instituting an additional tax on restaurant food to help pay for the project.

With the county's only home-rule form of government, the Springfield City Council could vote to put such a tax in place, but Mayor Misty Buscher said June 4 there's "no appetite" on the council to impose additional taxes on residents after the council recently increased water and sewer rates.

"It wasn't that they don't like the project," said Buscher, who polled individual alderpersons to gauge their reactions.

The mayor said she wouldn't be in favor of a new tax on restaurant food, either, and wants to see more precise estimates and designs before the project proceeds.

"I would love to see the BOS Center expand, but I think we need to be mindful, not only of how we pay for it but how big it is and what the improvements are and what they would look like," Buscher said. "We are never going to be an LA or a Chicago or a Dallas, Texas, so we don't want to overbuild."

Buscher said she also wants to see an additional hotel downtown. Otherwise, she said, Springfield wouldn't have enough hotel rooms to accommodate visitors once the Scheels Sports Park at Legacy Pointe opens in spring 2025.

"I am in favor of the project," she said. "I think it would be a great thing for our downtown."