The money will come from the Build Illinois Bond Fund for a grant to the Mid-Illinois Medical District and is mentioned on page 2,104 of a bill with more than 3,400 pages. House Bill 900 is one of several passed in April that outlines the $46.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The appropriation marks the first time the one-square-mile section of Springfield has received state funding since 2004. That's when the district – created by the legislature to promote the city's medical-services industry and preserve residential neighborhoods – received a $300,000 state grant for marketing and a master plan.
Ryan Croke, president of the 11-member, all-volunteer commission that oversees the Springfield medical district, said he was happy that $250,000 in funding for the district was included in the final budget outline even though area lawmakers were advocating for as much as $2 million.
"The medical district is a crown jewel of Springfield, and it is something that leaders – local and state – can agree that we should prioritize," Croke said.
Croke's full-time job is chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Human Services, an agency run by the Democratic governor's administration.
Croke credited state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, and state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, for ensuring that the $250,000 was included during end-of-session budget negotiations for fiscal 2023. A bill introduced by Turner, but that didn't receive a vote in the Illinois Senate or House, would have appropriated up to $2 million for the district's operating expenses.
The medical district commission hasn't yet decided on a specific use for the appropriation, Croke said. The commission currently has about $200 in its bank account.
Croke said the $250,000 will support efforts to expand quality, affordable housing in the district for "medical students, medical residents, medical fellows, nursing students and other health care heroes in the community."
Housing for the health care workforce "was identified as a priority for all of the medical anchors in the district," he said. "It would be great to have more attractive housing options within the medical district so that medical professionals, if they wanted to, could walk to work."
The Springfield medical district – modeled after Chicago's Illinois Medical District, which began in the 1940s and received decades of regular state funding – is bounded by North Grand Avenue and by 11th, Walnut and Madison streets.
The district includes all of the Enos Park neighborhood as well as part of Oak Ridge neighborhood and is home to Springfield Memorial Hospital, HSHS St. John's Hospital, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and other medical providers, including those affiliated with Springfield Clinic.
The commission is a governmental unit that doesn't have the power to tax but can borrow money, accept grants and buy, sell and improve land in the district.
The commission's members are appointed to multiyear terms by the governor, mayor of Springfield and Sangamon County Board.
According to the district's website, more than 13,000 people work in health care in the area just north of downtown Springfield. The district's residential neighborhoods are home to about 4,000 people.
Much of the district's growth since its inception has taken place at the two hospitals and at SIU, though district officials over the years have advocated for funds to help attract medical-related businesses and start up a business incubator in the district.
Creation of the medical district was spearheaded by then-Springfield Mayor Karen Hasara and state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield – both Republicans.
Legislation creating the district was signed into law by former Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, and the initial $300,000 state grant was from the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat.
The idea for the district emerged in 1999 from a "visioning study" called "Springfield Strategy 2020" that city government conducted during Hasara's administration, according to Norm Sims, a medical district commissioner.
Sims is a former planner and economic development director for the city, as well as a former executive director of the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission and former director of the state agency now known as the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
A lack of funding for such expenses, specifically to market the district, has hampered efforts in the past. The original marketing plan was only partly implemented, and the firm contracted to produce it in the 2000s, Chicago-based Hill & Knowlton, estimated that carrying it out would cost at least $436,000 to $613,000.
Whether the $250,000 grant in the new state budget will lead to more predictable state funding for the district is unknown, Croke said.
"I think all of the advocates for the medical district would be happy to see that," he said. "We're hopeful this funding will generate the momentum everyone would love to see happen."
Croke, who has served on the medical district commission since 2019, said he has been encouraged by a "deepened partnership" in the past year "between the medical district and the other economic development engines of the community."
The Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance has worked to promote the district nationwide, he said.
The state funding dovetails with an effort between advocates for downtown Springfield development and the medical district to update the comprehensive plan for both areas and build upon the original master plan for the district, Croke said.
The organizations have received 11 proposals from various entities that want to work on the plan. Croke said a contract will be awarded to one of them in the coming days, and the update will be paid for with $166,000 from the SSGA, Springfield city government and the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln.
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-679-7810.