New life downtown for empty church

By Patrick Yeagle

A long-vacant downtown building is slated for a major renovation, pending city council approval of nearly $1 million in tax increment financing funds.

The plan calls for the empty former Methodist church at 501 E. Capitol Ave. in downtown Springfield to be converted to a mix of business and residential space, including the new headquarters of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Springfield Urban Redevelopment, LLC – a joint venture between the Chamber of Commerce, The Springfield Project and Rock Island-based Economic Growth Corporation – will own and redevelop the building. Funding for the project’s $8.5-million expected cost includes about $3 million in federal tax credits, $985,000 from the Central Area Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District and $4.4 million in borrowing. The TIF money would represent about 11.6 percent of the project’s cost.

The Springfield Economic Development Commission, tasked with evaluating development projects requesting TIF funds, unanimously approved the TIF portion of the church renovation on Dec. 13. The Springfield City Council, which has final authority on TIF disbursements, will likely vote on the proposal in January.

The redevelopment would be anchored by new headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and The Springfield Project, as well as several apartments. There would be about 1,400 square feet of office space remaining for lease in the main part of the building at the corner of Fifth Street and Capitol Avenue, while the east wing would hold 25 apartments, including 16 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units.

Chris Hembrough, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said he’s excited to move the group’s headquarters closer to the heart of downtown. The current headquarters are on Second Street, between Lawrence and South Grand avenues. Still, he says what’s most important is putting a vacant building back into use and generating more property tax revenue.

“It’s a property that’s been sitting vacant eight – going on nine – years,” he said. “If you go in, it’s falling apart, but it’s a prominent location in downtown Springfield.”

Brian Hollenback is a partner in Springfield Urban Redevelopment LLC, and he has several similar projects under his belt around the Quad Cities, where he serves as president and CEO of Economic Growth Corporation in Rock Island. Hollenback says he originally connected with business leaders in Springfield through an effort to develop an economic development corporation here. That led to discussions about specific projects, and Hollenback saw the reuse of the empty church in Springfield as a solid investment.

He says the building meets several criteria for rehabilitation: location in a distressed census tract, vacancy, blight and a troubled title history.

“This one hit everything,” he said. “Based on that, it ranked very highly for community impact and reinvestment.”

Additionally, Hollenback says the experienced development team and engagement by the community gave him confidence. Evan Lloyd Architects of Springfield is designing the renovation, while O’Shea Builders of Springfield will handle the construction. Hollenback says the City of Springfield has also been supportive of the project.

“These projects are extremely complex to do,” he said. “With the uncertainty in the current market, that’s what you rely on – the strength of the community support.” u

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