UIS plans downtown campus

Parking ramp to be demolished, but downtown hotel project not happening

click to enlarge UIS plans downtown campus
PHOTO BY STACIE LEWIS
The city has gotten bids to demolish the dilapidated parking garage at Fourth and Washington streets. While plans for a new hotel are off the table, UIS has expressed interest in a downtown campus.

A once-vaunted downtown hotel project that the Springfield City Council voted to subsidize to the tune of $7.65 million is dead.

The $56 million project was to be built in the 300 block of Washington Street, across from the Amtrak station, where a dilapidated parking garage now stands. In 2019, the council voted to provide tax increment financing dollars to the developer, DK Collection SPI, once it had the remainder of its financing approved.

"The agreement has expired and their financing was never put in place," Mayor Jim Langfelder told Illinois Times on Jan. 11. But he said the city is proceeding with plans to demolish the parking ramp on that block.

The mayor said he is open to listening if the developer returns and resubmits a proposal.

But Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin was more blunt: "It's just dead."

McMenamin, who cast the lone vote against the city providing the subsidy, said he never believed the developer would be able to get sufficient private financing to build the hotel. Under the TIF ordinance, the city would have reimbursed the developer $450,000 for land acquisition if private construction financing were secured and then would have paid the balance over as many as eight years.

According to documents submitted to the city by DK Collection SPI, the building named TownePlace Suites would have included 95 hotel rooms and 17 apartments.

Chicago lawyer Craig Jeffery, who represents the developer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Illinois Times.

"I think that the city has given up on the idea with that particular developer," McMenamin said. "But ultimately, the city would like to find a new plan to take down the parking garage. It's 50% unusable because of structural defects. And so there has been talk since the hotel idea failed that the block could be used for a downtown campus for University of Illinois Springfield. So that idea was out there right before COVID hit. And then when COVID came, nothing had really been talked about with the UIS downtown campus."

Langfelder said the parking garage will still be demolished as part of efforts to redevelop the site.

"The ramp itself, we're going to raze that. We did put it out for bid and plan on bringing it down this year," he said.

An architect and engineer inspected the structure and determined that it could not be rehabilitated. Based on bids the city has received to destroy the structure, demolition will likely cost taxpayers about $780,000, Langfelder said.

But a parking garage could rise again on that site, particularly if UIS moves ahead with its plans to build downtown.

"At this point in time, it looks like we would reconstruct the ramp – possibly more of a modernistic one with charging stations and things of that nature. But time will tell on that," Langfelder said.

He added the university appears to continue to be interested in having a downtown location.

"(It's not going to be on that block), but we've always offered that. I know there's interest in some buildings on Fourth Street. One of them is catty-corner from that location," Langfelder said.

Bruce Sommer, director of economic development and innovation for UIS, said the university is pondering three buildings downtown. He confirmed one of the buildings is 401 E. Washington, owned by the Illinois Sherriff's Association. But he said two other buildings, which he declined to identify, are also finalists for the project.

Sommer said he is hopeful that Gov. JB Pritzker will announce funding for the project in February or March and then the university can move forward with purchasing a property. The price tag for the downtown campus is $15 million.

Sommer said the downtown campus will primarily be used as a business incubator. Along with office space, it would also include laboratories and manufacturing areas where new products and innovations could be developed. About three classrooms would also be on site and would be used by UIS students. It is expected to take 18 months to two years for the campus to be created, he said.

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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