By DEANA STROISCH
The State Journal-Register
Posted Jan 14, 2013
With a Hy-Vee deal approved, the focus along MacArthur Boulevard is shifting to the former Esquire Theatre.
The building, the largest undeveloped property along MacArthur, has been empty for nearly a decade. Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, whose ward includes the former theater property, said conditions have improved to attract a developer. Land costs have declined, interest rates are low, a new tax increment financing district exists, and there is “renewed pride and activity in the neighborhoods.”
He also noted that, under the city’s new building rules, the owners probably will have to demolish the building by 2015 or face significant fines. Last summer, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. sold its operations in the United States and Canada to Dalian Wanda Group for $2.6 billion. The Esquire was among them.
“The property has the potential to be a showpiece example of landscaping and architectural innovation offering mixed use development,” McMenamin said. “Like Hy-Vee, it can be a springboard for other improvements
and smaller developments along the corridor. The Hy-Vee and Esquire properties have the potential to brand MacArthur Boulevard in the most positive ways.”
Taking another look
Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe said the city should try to land an anchor development for the former Esquire property that is neighborhood- and pedestrian-friendly. “This is an important parcel of property that many residents and business owners in the area would like to see happen,” Jobe said. He said an inventory should be taken of under-used and vacant property in order to market it to developers “who are now taking a second and third look since the Hy-Vee redevelopment agreement has been completed.”
Mike Farmer, director of planning and economic development for the city, said the Esquire site is desirable for redevelopment, but he noted there are challenges. “People just think it’s as simple as ‘Why doesn’t the city do this or why doesn’t somebody do that.’ There’s always those variables that most people aren’t aware of — multiple property owners, one property owner not wanting to sell. … There’s always reasons why it just doesn’t happen, it’s just not because nobody cares.”
Also complicating matters, said McMenamin and Jen Dillman, president of the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association, are the various jurisdictions that control different parts of MacArthur Boulevard — the Illinois Department of Transportation, city of Springfield, Sangamon County, Jerome and Leland Grove.