City of Lincoln approves additional Hotel/Motel Tax funds for Mill restoration project

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[November 11, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Monday evening Lincoln aldermen approved with a 7-0 vote, awarding additional funding to the Mill on Route 66 restoration project. Michelle Bauer was absent for the evening.

Geoff Ladd of the Route 66 Heritage Foundation had paid a visit to the city on October 26, asking for $4,755.71 in addition to the$12,000 the city awarded earlier this year in March.

At the March visit, Ladd had explained that before the Mill could open as a Museum for Route 66, it had to have an ADA approved entry way and a public restroom. To accomplish this, Matthews Construction would be hired to build onto the back of the existing building. The cost to cover this expense would come, hopefully, in part from a grant from the National Park Service. A local match would be required, and Ladd was asking the city to provide that local match with funding from the Hotel/Motel Tax.

At the time of the original request, the city was preparing the budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Aldermen agreed to provide the funding, pending the award of the grant from the National Park Service. At the conclusion of the budget building process, the city also decided that the Logan County Tourism Bureau would be awarded 85 percent of the Hotel/Motel Tax collected. The other 15 percent would remain in the city coffers. With the 15 percent, the city would award the request from Ladd, and also have cash that would kick-start the Third Fridays Downtown events to be held during the summer.

In August, Ladd returned to the council stating that the Park Service Grant had been awarded, and the foundation was preparing to move forward with the construction project. He noted that the hopes were that the project would be completed before the end of the year, but he noted that the Park Service had delayed awarding the grants, which had thrown off the construction schedule the Mill had originally outlined to the council.

On October 26th, Ladd returned once again, saying that there had been some new developments in the construction plans that were going to cost additional dollars. He said the original plan to put in one “family” restroom had been rejected, and there was now a requirement, by-law, that was forcing the Mill to construct two restrooms. The official plans were now drawn up for the addition, and the extra cost for the second restroom was going to come to $5,755.51. He said Brad Matthews who has always been a great supporter of the Mill project had generously donated $1,000 in labor, but the Mill still needed the $4,775.51. He asked the city to make up that amount, again taking it from the Hotel/Motel Tax.

During the discussion on the matter, Todd Mourning asked why this was coming to light now, and why it had not been part of the original proposal.

Ladd explained that the original request for cash was based on an estimate and that the official design for the addition had not been done at that time. In addition, because the Mill is a historical landmark, the plans had to be approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. He said that at first, he and the foundation board had thought that one family restroom would be sufficient, but it wasn’t. He said that was also due in part to recent changes in the law based on equal rights for transgender patrons.

Mourning asked why the official design had not been drawn up before the grant application. Ladd said that having the design work done was going to be costly, and the foundation didn’t have the dollars to spend on a design when they were still taking the chance that the grant would not be awarded.

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Michelle Bauer said she was very much in favor of getting the Mill finished, and the city helping the foundation in reaching that goal. However, her main concern at this time was the impact it would have on the Logan County Tourism Bureau. She wondered if the Bureau could afford to lose the nearly $5,000 from its budget midway through its year.

City Administrator Clay Johnson said the additional funding could be awarded to the Mill with no impact on the Bureau. He reminded the council that the city voted to retain 15 percent of the tax revenue collected. He said that he didn’t know the exact number, but he thought there was somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000 to $45,000 in the city’s Hotel/Motel Tax revenue line. City Treasurer Chuck Conzo agreed that there was more than enough to give the additional funding to the Mill without impacting the Tourism Bureau. Bauer responded in that case, she was all for moving forward and granting the request.

This past Monday, when the item came up on the agenda, Jonie Tibbs made the motion to approve with the second coming from Hoefle. Hoefle, during the discussion period, reminded everyone that this was Hotel/Motel Tax dollars and would not have an impact on Lincoln constituents or the city’s general budget. The motion then passed unanimously.

Later in the evening, Rick Hoefle thanked Ladd and Foundation Chairman Bob Wilmert for their diligence in keeping the Mill project going.

Ladd, in turn, thanked the city for their tremendous support. He added that he was also excited about the new signage that would be going up in the downtown area, designating the alternate Route 66 Byway. He noted that Route 66 will celebrate its 90th year on Friday, November 11th, and said the city could expect to see a celebratory press release from the Route 66 Scenic Byways on Friday.

The Mill restoration project has been in progress for the past several years. The Heritage Foundation has worked continually with limited funding to bring the once popular eatery back to life as a museum. Ladd in March announced that the work is nearly completed, and he anticipates that the museum will open in the spring of 2017. A large celebration will be planned at that time.

[Nila Smith]

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