Bringing a university presence to the downtown area has been under discussion for years. But the latest concept dwarfs what has been on the drawing board previously.
As first reported in the Illinois Times, government and business leaders have been in talks about taking over 4 square blocks between Second and Fourth Streets. The area could stretch from Monroe Street on the south to as far as Washington Street to the north.
While details are scarce, the talks have involved space for the University of Illinois Springfield. Sources indicate UIS could house public policy units downtown.
Plans for the property could also include a Southern Illinois University law school as well as a larger home for Innovate Springfield, a social innovation and business incubator, which is part of UIS and is the first hub in the U of I’s Innovation Network. An NPR Illinois re-location, either in whole or part, has also been included as part of a proposed Innovate Springfield move.
“The University is considering various options for a new and larger location for the downtown hub that includes an expanded Innovate Springfield and additional activities with funding for construction and/or renovation to be provided in part by a recent legislative appropriation that includes $15 million for the UIS hub,” said UIS spokesman Derek Schnapp in a prepared statement. “We’ve had some discussions with SIU representatives about possible collaborations that would enhance further economic development in the region. As discussions continue, we look forward to collaborating with local and state legislative leaders.”
Still unknown is how the project would be paid for. The Illinois Times reported there is an understanding the state would need to chip in money. Sen. Andy Manar (D – Bunker Hill), whose district takes in the downtown area, told the newspaper there’s no money specifically outlined in the recently approved $45 billion capital construction program.
However, $15 million is included for Innovate Springfield to relocate, with no specific location mentioned. The City of Springfield also has a downtown Tax Increment Financing district that could play a role. The city has targeted funds toward a new hotel project at Fourth and Washington where a parking garage now stands. Mayor Jim Langfelder told the Illinois Times a university project could take the place of the hotel if that plan falls through. The newspaper reports all 10 aldermen have been briefed.
Taking over the four square blocks could displace some businesses. Josh Collins, interim CEO of the Springfield-Sangamon County Growth Alliance, an economic development organization heavily involved in the project discussion, is quoted in the Illinois Times as saying property owners have been contacted.
The published report goes on to say that details of the plan that has been kept under wraps will become better known in coming weeks with public meetings expected to be held.
It remains unclear if an earlier proposal that would have added a university presence to the former YWCA block, directly across from the Governor’s Mansion, is off the table. There has been no consensus on what to do with the vacant block. Some have wanted to see development. Others have pushed to maintain it as green space. This past summer, a series of concerts was held at the location.