On the move

Lobbyist wins bid for state leases

Illinois Department of Human Services offices that are now at the northern edge of downtown Springfield are slated to move more than two miles south and out of the core of the city.

DHS offices now in the Centrum Building at the intersection of Fourth and Madison streets would move to vacant buildings at a complex called Iles Park Place at the intersection of South Sixth and Ash streets. The offices scheduled to move from the Centrum Building to Iles Park Place include the Department of Mental Health, the Office of Developmental Disabilities and the Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. In addition, the Sangamon County Family Community Resource Center, a DHS agency that takes applications for food stamps, medical assistance and other services, will move from 100 South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Iles Park Place.

DHS auditors who now work in the Harris building on South Grand Avenue will also be moving to Iles Park Place, said Veronica Vera, DHS spokeswoman. With the exception of the Family Community Resource Center, none of the offices that are moving provide direct services to the public but rather house administrative offices, Vera said.

Iles Park Place includes four buildings that are now being gutted and remodeled to meet the state’s needs, Vera said. No moving date has been set, she added.

“It’s months away,” Vera said.

Iles Park Place is owned by a partnership that includes Chris Stone, a Springfield lobbyist known for his ownership of Lucy’s Place, a string of video gambling parlors, and involvement with the medical marijuana industry. Stone is a lobbyist for HealthCentral, which in April won permission to open a medical marijuana dispensary planned for 620 E. Adams St., in the Bressmer building that Stone and his partners purchased at about the same time they bought Iles Park Place in 2012.

Stone attracted headlines last year when his wife donated $20,000 to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign. Rauner returned the money, however, because state law bars vendors with state contracts or their spouses from contributing to elected officials who oversee contracts or candidates for offices that oversee contracts. As part of their real-estate buying spree three years ago, Stone and his partners bought a building on West Jefferson Street that leases office space to the state Department of Public Health. Stone and companies with which he is affiliated have, over the years, contributed more than $205,600 to candidates, parties and political organizations, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

When he and his partners purchased Iles Park Place in 2012, Stone told Illinois Times that he was taking advantage of a sag in the Springfield real-estate market and was betting that property values would increase. He says now that it is too soon to say whether the deal with the state for Iles Park Place will prove profitable.

“I’m not sure yet,” Stone said. “We’re still negotiating the final (lease) price. We did seriously competitively bid this in order to do a good job of renovating and getting people in those buildings.”

Vera said that Iles Park Place, once renovated, will provide more efficiency for the agency than the Centrum Building, which was designed as space for doctors, not bureaucrats.

“It wasn’t conducive to completing our mission to be working in the Centrum Building,” Vera said. “I think that all of the divisions and all of the different offices that were in use there were incredibly segregated. It just wasn’t conducive to good work flow.”

Vera said that she wasn’t sure how many state employees will be working at Iles Park Place when the move is complete.

“I can tell you that pretty much everyone we have in the Centrum Building is moving into this (Iles Park Place),” Vera said.

The move will be a blow to downtown, says Victoria Ringer, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc.

“Any bodies that are going out of this 22-square-block area is not a good thing,” Ringer said. “My hope is that we will be able to compensate for that with some of the other work that is going to be done with some of the other buildings downtown. I spoke with the governor about this, I believe right after he was elected and after he took office. They’re going to look at those jobs that have left the Springfield downtown area.”

Ringer said that the move increases the importance of building student housing at the intersection of Fourth and Madison streets, across Madison Street from the Centrum Building. Bluffstone, an Iowa-based corporation, has proposed a five-story building with room for 90 tenants, but the project last month failed to win $700,000 in tax-increment finance funding from the city council.

Former mayor Mike Houston had proposed providing the $700,000 in public money, which would be used for land acquisition and site approval, but the council failed to approve it, with some aldermen expressing concerns about not knowing the identity of principals of a land trust that now owns the property, which is a parking lot. The Bluffstone proposal surfaced at the end of Houston’s term, and some aldermen said they believed that the new mayor should administer the proposal. Langfelder has said that he doesn’t favor giving public money to purchase land; rather, he has said, TIF money for the Bluffstone proposal should be given in phases as construction is completed.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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