Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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Lincoln Estates sees new life after 8 years of abandonment

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[March 24, 2010]  Lincoln Estates, the former Lincoln Developmental Center, will begin having some activity on its 103-acre grounds. Although it won't necessarily bring area jobs, it will ensure some, and it is an important first step in the state recognizing the value of this prime acreage, according to Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services has stated that the Department of Corrections would be using some of the grounds as a warehouse for state surplus furniture and supplies.

State Sen. Bomke said the decision makes fiscal sense. "Why would we rent facilities when we already own a facility with ample space?" he asked. The senator was alluding to the current Pana storage facilities that the state rents at considerable cost while numerous state-owned buildings on the Lincoln Estates property sit empty.

The senator says that although he is glad to see the state exercise some fiscal responsibility, this does not alter his efforts to find uses for the property that would create jobs.

Bomke has been a longtime proponent of reopening the grounds in some manner, especially the four 3-year-old, 10-bedroom homes that have never been used since being completed under ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

According to the Lincoln mayor, Correctional Industries will use the warehouse, next to the power plant, to store materials and finished products. The building itself used to be called the "general store" and is across the railroad tracks from The Mill.

"Is it a good deal for Lincoln? It's a great first step for the redevelopment of the LDC grounds, and any re-tasking of those grounds is a great step for Lincoln," Snyder said. "Those grounds have sat vacant since 2002. While the moving of the warehouse from Pana may not create any new jobs, it will ensure that a handful of local jobs are retained to staff the warehouse. And retention of jobs is always good. There are currently six jobs at the warehouse in Pana. That facility is closing. Those six jobs are now going to be Lincoln jobs."

The mayor also looked at other benefits from the decision.

"In addition, the state is going to spend a lot of money rehabbing that building and getting it fit for use by Correctional Industries," he continued. "Those dollars will turn over in our community and help our local economy. The building is located on a corner of the grounds. Its use will create no major difficulties or impediments to any of the rest of the grounds being utilized by any other organization. There are still around 100 acres and over 20 other buildings available for development. Having new activity taking place on the grounds will encourage other organizations to take a closer look at what the LDC facility could offer them. I'm happy the state has taken this first step towards the redevelopment of the LDC grounds, and I look forward to further developments in the future."

When Gov. Quinn took office last year, Bomke, Snyder and Rep. Rich Brauer met with the governor's office to make sure the new governor was aware of Lincoln Estates and to encourage use of the state grounds for employment opportunities.

Bomke said he said he met again with the governor's chief of staff a month and a half ago to try to get something going on using the dormant group homes.

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Central Management Services has been conducting a study of the facility and possible uses, but that report has not been completed.

The grounds have been the point of several possible scenarios since being closed by former Gov. George Ryan amid controversial claims by Ryan that resident safety was in doubt.

In 2007, after four new group homes were built on the northeast section of the grounds, Blagojevich broke a promise to Bomke to open the homes, and they have sat empty ever since.

In 2008, Rep Bill Mitchell proposed using Lincoln Estates property for veterans homes and assistance facilities, but that went nowhere as well.

Other possible uses of the buildings and grounds that have been proposed include a residential treatment center for youth programs and a center for veterans with Alzheimer's disease.

Although CMS has not said what private and state services agencies have toured the grounds, several have.

Snyder had previously remarked that he was told several groups had looked at the grounds but that he had not been given any information as to any progress in finding suitors for the facility and grounds until this communication.

Two weeks ago Illinois Republicans sent a letter to Quinn recommending the state sell the grounds, which cost an estimated $1 million a year to maintain.

At one time in the early '50s, the then-named Lincoln State School had 5,000 residents and was the county's largest employer.


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