Springfield’s infrastructure needs dominated an aldermanic forum Thursday night.
Candidates from the city’s westernmost neighborhoods — wards 7, 8 and 10 — were asked about what development projects they would prioritize and how they would spend capital dollars.
The event was hosted by the State Journal-Register and 94.7 & 970 WMAY.
Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin said infrastructure is already the healthiest part of the city’s budget.
“We get the motor fuel tax funds,” he said. “We have devoted significant portions of our sales tax revenue to infrastructure. Our video gaming monies [go] to infrastructure.”
But challenger Brad Carlson said residents wouldn’t know that based on the lack of development.
“Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoons you could shoot a cannon through downtown,” he said.
Carlson, a Capital Township trustee, said he’d focus on seeing through infrastructure projects that are already underway, such as an intergovernmental effort to repair Chatham Road and MacArthur Boulevard.
In Ward 8, the only open seat on the council, the three candidates emphasized seemingly small improvements.
Erin Conley, president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, said she'd priortize sidewalk installation and post-storm tree removal.
Dean Graven, a general contractor and member of the Springfield Building and Zoning Commission, said the city doesn’t have the money to complete these projects.
“The city needs $89 million a year to maintain, improve and expand. We’re nowhere close to that,” Graven said. “We’re very antiquated on development and we’re very slow. The developers … don’t even want to think about us.”
Debra Kunkel, also vying for the Ward 8 seat, isn’t worried about the lack of infrastructure dollars. Instead, she said she’ll focus on building cultural and social capital.
“We have to stop trying to bring back the times passed, where we had a lot of money and built great things in the 60s and 70s,” she said. “We don’t have that kind of money and we’re not going to get it back unless we do something different.”
Kunkel, a retired pharmacy technician, said projects like solar roads and sidewalks would bring money back to the city.
Ward 10 candidate Olajide John Animasaun, a pharmacist, said he wants to push City Water Light and Power (CWLP) towards the “Green Revolution” and generate extra money by converting parking meters into electric chargers. He said the city could also raise infrastructure dollars by allowing the sale of recreational marijuana.
Animasaun is running against Ald. Ralph Hanauer, who said Springfield is doing the best it can with limited resources.
“Our budget is such that you can’t just transfer money from the water fund … to infrastructure,” he said. “Hate to tell people that. But that’s the rules.”
Also running in Ward 10 is Rob Patino, a law professor at SIU. He echoed Hanauer’s concerns, but said he would be more transparent than the incumbent about whether he’d received campaign donations from developers.
North Mansion / Y-Block
Aldermanic-hopefuls were also asked what their plans would be for the vacant YWCA Block.
Nearly all of the candidates agreed it should be at least partially green space. But they had different ideas on what kind of development would best suit the downtown location.
McMenamin said he’d leave it up to the private sector.
“We need some big pockets to come in and spend the money. Without the deep pockets, we can’t develop that block,” he said. “I would favor a new round of proposals to see who has got the money and for what purposes.”
Conley supports state Sen. Andy Manar’s plan to spend $50 million on university expansion.
“We can have more young people –– more young professionals –– attracted to downtown Springfield,” Conley said. “That will ripple out in terms of economic development and redevelopment of surrounding buildings. We’re going to need housing options if we’re going to have more people going to school downtown.”
Kunkel said she’d like to see the city build affordable, high-rise apartments and public parks that promote walkability and community congregation.
“A heavy-populated downtown is actually more environmentally friendly. There’s a lot of people there that do not have vehicles,” she said. “It’s more socially satisfying and ensures successful businesses and services will move into the area.”
Patino said the space would be best used as a recreational space, like an ice-skating rink or amphitheater.
“I think it would compliment that mansion and all the other surrounding areas beautifully,” he said. “No, it’s not generating tax dollars. But there are plenty of other buildings downtown that can be rehabbed for other types of development.”
Animasaun and Graven said they would support university expansion. Carlson and Hanauer discussed private development.