Tim Landis, September 15, 2012
The MacArthur Boulevard Business Association has 140 members, a long-term redevelopment plan and prospects for a Hy-Vee supermarket five years into the organization’s existence. It also has the old Esquire building, a mishmash of zoning rules and the prospect of more retail competition to the south.
“I think it can only get better,” said Sue Schwartz in explaining her decision to open a new business on MacArthur last spring. Schwartz, owner of Studio on Sixth Street at 215 S. Sixth St., said she considered factors good and bad before opening Gypsy Soul at 1417 S. MacArthur Blvd. The second artist’s studio, for instance, is just across the street from the former Esquire Theater, a building boulevard supporters consider one of the area’s most persistent eyesores. “We have a lot of neighborhood people here,” said Schwartz. “They were just very happy that we took over that spot.”
Sangamon County Board member Jen Dillman and Sharon Whalen, publisher of the Illinois Times, were among the handful of early organizers. “I realize it’s a patient process,” said Dillman. “Things don’t happen overnight.” Dillman said consistent zoning is one of the next big challenges for the corridor, and Hy-Vee will help build momentum.
Whalen, who is relocating to Florida, credited the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce with raising the question of MacArthur’s future once the extension was completed. “‘We know this is coming. What’s your answer to it? How are you going to preserve that area?’” were the questions, Whalen said.
Association president Debbie Thompson, who previously represented Ward 7 on the Springfield City Council, said in an email that Hy-Vee and the TIF provide the foundation for the next five years. “Further discussions with city officials (are needed) to address infrastructure issues, such as the burying of electrical lines, curbs and gutters, and sidewalks,” said Thompson, “and possible transfer of the boulevard from the state to the city.”
Plans by Iowa-based supermarket chain Hy-Vee to convert the former Kmart at 2115 S. MacArthur Blvd. to a grocery store are considered by boulevard supporters the key to much of what comes next. But there has been some frustration in recent weeks among MacArthur Boulevard Business Association members over the pace of negotiations with the city for tax-increment financing incentives.
Both Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, who represents much of the area, and Ward 6. Ald. Cory Jobe addressed the issue at the monthly MBBA meeting held on Thursday. “Hy-Vee is coming,” said Jobe, who served as MBBA president for the group’s first 3 1/2 years. “I have complete faith in our economic-development director and our mayor when it comes to negotiating with Hy-Vee. “It’s one person’s opinion over the next, but I think we have to wait as an association to see what the agreement is going to be,” said Jobe.
McMenamin said negotiations have been complicated by the fact there is not yet any revenue in the new TIF, which uses increases in property tax values to help pay for additional redevelopment within the district. One of the key issues is how much of the TIF money would be committed upfront to Hy-Vee and what would remain for other developments. “We want to make sure the reimbursement to Hy-Vee is structured in such a way that there’s money left for other purposes,” said McMenamin.