Friday, December 13, 2013
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Steering committee offers recommendations for 2 downtown projects

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[December 13, 2013]  Tuesday evening Patrick Doolin and David Lanterman presented to the Lincoln City Council an update on the downtown revitalization project. At the same time, they offered recommendations on two projects to be completed by Sept. 30, 2014. If the council puts their stamp of approval on the requests, this will be the first of what the committee hopes is a long line of projects to improve the landscape in the heart of the city.

In January of 2012, the city learned that they had won a $675,000 grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The CDAP Flexible Opportunity grant was given to the city with stipulations that the money be used for three purposes: Develop an overall downtown revitalization plan, fund building demolition and code compliance work within the downtown area, and fund facade improvements that are historically accurate and aesthetically pleasing.

The grant also came with a local match stipulation, and the city of Lincoln was required to add $100,000 to the grant for a total of $775,000 to be spent.

The city appointed a steering committee to move forward with accomplishing these goals, with a deadline of December 2013 for all the work to be done and all the funds spent.

Tuesday evening, Doolin told the council that in realizing the funding could not all be spent by the deadline, the committee had requested and received an extension from DCEO. The city now has until Sept. 30, 2014, to use all the grant funding or the money not used will have to be given back to the state.

Doolin offered a recap of how the grant money has been used to date. The first portion of the grant requirement was to develop a plan for revitalization. Doolin said that plan has been completed at a cost of approximately $388,000. He said the work done with these dollars included many studies performed by experts in specific fields such as parking studies, traffic studies, historic preservation studies, broadband infrastructure studies and much more, as well as developing a written plan using the information gathered.

Doolin said what is left of the grant plus city match is approximately $386,000.

He explained that one component of the grant was to use a large portion of the funding for demolition of properties in the downtown area. Doolin expressed that this was somewhat of a challenge because fortunately, the city does not have many buildings in the downtown area that warrant demolition. However, they did find one.

Doolin said the committee was recommending that approximately $40,000 be spent to demolish the building at 217 S. Sangamon St. The cost would be divided, with the grant paying $36,000 and the city providing $4,000.

The property in question has been a troubled property in the city for several years. Located next door to the old Alexander Lumber building, an exterior wall of the building began to crumble in December of 2008, and over a several-hour period, much of the wall went tumbling down near the parking lot of Alexander's.

The building had been empty for some time prior to that, and in the opinion of the city zoning officer at that time, Les Last, was uninhabitable. The building was consequently condemned. The property owner, Mark Gates, took no action to demolish or refurbish the building, and there was not enough money within the city coffers to do anything about the large, crumbling structure.

Tuesday night, Doolin said the grant funds would carry the lion's chare of the cost, and the city would be able to do away with one more problem property in the city. To do this, the city could put the property in the fast-track demolition program, and within 60 to 90 days of approval from the council, the building could come down.

Doolin stressed that this would help the city and also fulfill the grant requirement, and thus the committee was recommending that the council approve the demolition.

Next, Doolin said the committee was ready to recommend that one block of the downtown square be redesigned, based on a streetscape plan put together by the committee. The committee would like to do a complete design upgrade of the 500 block of Pulaski Street.

In addition, they want to do a wraparound on each end of the block, taking the new streetscape just past the old Oasis building on the west side, and just past Bock Realtors on the east side. This would also include work on both sides of the intersections. The plan includes building the sidewalk area out into the intersection so that pedestrians can prepare to cross traffic without actually being in the line of traffic as they are now.

Doolin told the council that one big advantage to doing this block was that it would provide a "living model" of what the city hopes to accomplish for the entire downtown area. He said doing so would help increase public support of the downtown projects and would also be beneficial in obtaining future grants.

He said the city has missed out on a few grants because they don't have a project physically started, so getting one block underway would improve the odds of getting grant funding for other streetscapes in the future.

Doolin also explained why Pulaski Street was chosen as the starting point. He said the sidewalks along that area are in bad shape and in need of replacement. He also said that in the downtown area, that block does not have the elevation changes that some of the others do. In other words, the sidewalk is closer to street level. In addition, that part of the downtown area experiences strong sewer odors that infiltrate the area businesses. Part of the plan would include sewer work to remedy this.

He also told the council that when the committee submitted this street to DCEO for their required approval, it was one the state agency really liked as the first project because of the Oasis and the Arcade, which both generated a lot of foot traffic in the city.

Finally, Doolin said the source for lighting throughout the downtown area was in that region, which would make it easier for the tie-ins the project would require.

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Bruce Carmitchel asked about the Oasis. DCEO had approved the project before the Oasis fire. Carmitchel wondered if the state would still support this as the first project with the Oasis gone. Doolin said the state had not been informed that the Oasis was gone, but at this point he didn't feel like that would matter to DCEO. He noted that now that it has been approved, making a change with DCEO would be very difficult.

Doolin said that with the city's approval, the two recommended projects, demolition of 217 S. Sangamon and a new streetscape for Pulaski Street, both could be completed by the DCEO deadline. He stressed that if for no other reason, it was very important that the city use the money in the grant, and this would do that.

However, the drawback to the plan is that it will not only use the approximately $386,000 remaining, it will also require an additional $200,000 that is not currently in the city's budget.

Doolin said he realized this was all very complicated, but the bottom line is, to complete the streetscape plan, there are components that the DCEO grant will not pay for. The grant will pay nothing for engineering costs associated with the design. It will not pay for street lighting, and it will not pay for the decorative components such as benches, trees or planters.

Doolin said the city would have to find $57,000 to pay the engineering costs and another $148,000 to pay for the non-funded components of the plan. He recapped that those components would be lighting, light posts, the sewer repair, trees, planters and benches.

Doolin talked about the logic of this, saying that in order to do the new sidewalks, the existing lighting would have to come out, and then be put back in. DCEO will not pay for that. He said the committee believes it would be silly to start the project and not finish it completely.

He also told the council one of the big drawbacks in the cost is the fact that it is only one block. He said construction costs are higher on small projects. He noted that if the city had the money to do several blocks at a time, which they don't, the overall cost of construction would be less.

During discussion, the question came up as to what was included in the lighting portion. Doolin said it was street lighting and lighting at intersections; it did not include traffic control devices.

It was also questioned whether the city had to commit to doing the sections right off Pulaski on South Kickapoo and McLean streets. Doolin said they did not.

The committee was making the recommendation for the side streets in order to fully use all the grant money. He said the committee was going to recommend that the city approve the "whole pie," but that if the costs got out of hand, they could revisit the plan and do away with the work on the two side streets.

Doolin said the committee's official recommendation was that the city commit to spending all the grant funds, $302,000; spending the balance of its required match, $79,500; then spend the additional $57,000 for engineering; and finally, commit to another $148,000 to complete the decorative and lighting component of the plan.

Doolin told the council that the committee needs the city's commitment so it can move forward with the plan. He added that if the city wants to look at a different block, that would cause delays in the process and probably cause the city to lose the balance of the grant.

Doolin also told the council the dollars that were needed immediately would be the $57,000 for engineering. The $148,000 would be needed later.

Melody Anderson asked if there had been any conversation as to where the $148,000 would come from. Marty Neitzel, who is on the steering committee with Doolin and Lanterman, said the discussion had included taking the money from the capital improvement funds.

It should be noted that in implementing the utility tax for the city of Lincoln, Mayor Keith Snyder's original plan called for dollars for downtown revitalization. The plan included issuing a $2 million bond with annual payments of $250,000, all paid by utility tax collections.

Kathy Horn wondered if CEDS could help with funding for a project like this. Doolin said that was a possibility and that an application could be submitted through them.

It was also discussed that the city has applied for a $2 million grant through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. Darren Forgy of Prairie Engineers and also a member of the steering committee said the ITEP grant application would cover streetscape work on 10 downtown blocks associated with Broadway Street. He noted that in that grant the city's match would be $500,000.

Bruce Carmitchel asked if area businesses would have to bear any costs in this project. Doolin said where they might have to contribute would be in creating ADA-compliant entryways into their own businesses. The city is required to make the sidewalks accessible, but the building owners are responsible for making their entries accessible.

As the discussion began to wind down, Snyder asked if the committee's recommendations could be placed on next week's agenda. Neitzel said yes, to put it on. She also noted that if the council is not ready to vote come Monday, it can be tabled to a future meeting.


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