Rebuilding Springfield

Economic commission offers east side improvements

click to enlarge Karen Davis, director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Springfield, will also lead the mayor’s new Economic Development Commission. - PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
Karen Davis, director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Springfield, will also lead the mayor’s new Economic Development Commission.
Karen Davis, director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Springfield, will also lead the mayor’s new Economic Development Commission.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
A newly created business committee for Springfield offers opportunity for the city’s east side.

Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder announced Tuesday a seven-member Economic Development Commission aimed at advising the city on TIF projects. The all-volunteer group includes a diverse set of Springfield residents and holds promise for streamlining redevelopment of the city’s blighted areas.

The Springfield City Council approved the commission earlier this month, and its members will face final approval by the council in August. The monthly meetings of the commission will be open to the public and subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act.


TIF stands for “tax increment finance” and refers to a designated area in which property tax revenue above a certain threshold is reinvested in encouraging economic growth instead of going toward school funding and other governmental functions. Because that money is diverted from schools, TIFs sometimes generate controversy. Springfield currently has eight TIF districts, three of which will expire in the next five years.

At a press conference announcing the Economic Development Commission, Langfelder said the purpose of the group is to “depoliticize” TIF projects and help determine which areas of the city should be designated as TIF districts. Typically, the mayor’s office holds a large amount of influence over TIF projects, so Langfelder is essentially ceding some of that power.

“What I’d like to do is have a more grassroots approach, where you have members of the community provide input in helping advise and prioritize those projects,” Langfelder said.

The new panel is composed of members with backgrounds in finance, real estate, construction, education and business development. They are Joe Bascio, business manager for Springfield Public Schools; Karen Conn, co-owner of Conn’s Hospitality Group; William Furling III, a principal partner at Legacy Pointe Development Company; Michelle Higginbotham, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association and associate publisher of the Springfield Business Journal; Michael Pittman, an entrepreneur and developer, Brad Schaive, business manager for Laborers Local 477 union; and Mark Vance, senior vice president of commercial banking at Carrollton Bank.


The commission will examine proposed TIF projects and make recommendations, although the Springfield City Council will still have final say on which projects to fund.

Karen Davis, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, will lead the commission. While Davis couldn’t yet reveal details of specific projects the commission will examine, she said there are several in the works throughout the city.

Davis, a Springfield native, started as director on July 6. She is a former banker, former head of community development for the Springfield Urban League and current vice chairwoman of the Illinois Housing Development Authority board. She says she has a passion for Springfield’s east side, part of which is covered by the Far East TIF District stretching east from 14th Street between Cook Street and South Grand Avenue.

“It needs a lot of work and a lot of funding,” Davis said, adding that she hopes to bring large employers to the east side while also encouraging the growth of small businesses. “We’re on the backside of the economic downturn now, so we need a little bit of everything. It isn’t just housing; it isn’t just business. It’s everything. The key is going to be finding the right combination to make those communities flourish.”

Michael Pittman is a serial entrepreneur with several development projects on the east side to his credit, including the successful Eastview Estates subdivision. As part of the Economic Development Commission, Pittman hopes to see more small businesses established on the east side because of the generational wealth effect and the lower likelihood of such businesses moving away to chase tax breaks.


“It just takes finding people who will innovate and who are willing to take a risk, to go out and make some things happen,” Pittman said. “It takes a special person to have the stick-to-it-iveness because the profit margins are thin and the risk is so much greater. It’s gotta be in your heart to do something like that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to move some projects forward which will have an impact on the east side, which in essence will be good for the entire city of Springfield.”

Despite the risks and challenges of starting a business in what he calls a “nontraditional area” like the east side, Pittman says he has focused his own business efforts there because businesses promote stability and eliminate blight.

“These are the types of things that don’t show up in the box score,” he said, referencing his early days in Springfield as a minor league baseball player. “There is a net value associated with something like that happening.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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