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Kadner: A win for Southland in Springfield

Illinois Rep. William Davis D-East Hazel Crest argues Illinois state budget legislatiwhile House floor during sessi Illinois State Capitol Friday

Illinois Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, argues Illinois state budget legislation while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Friday, May 31, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: July 5, 2013 6:06AM



While the recent state legislative session was viewed as a dismal failure by many Springfield observers, it produced two big economic initiatives for the Southland.

In addition to allocating $71 million for the purchase of land and naming the Illinois Department of Transportation as the governing authority for a south suburban airport, a South Suburban Brownfield Redevelopment Zone was created.

The redevelopment zone is designed to spur economic growth around intermodal terminals owned by the Canadian National and Union Pacific railroads in Harvey and Dolton.

The zone includes those towns plus Dixmoor, East Hazel Crest, Hazel Crest, Homewood, Markham, Phoenix, Posen, Riverdale, South Holland and Thornton.

According to the legislation, a fund would be created to encourage the redevelopment of abandoned and neglected properties by using income tax revenue generated from new jobs created by employers in the zone.

“It would sort of work like a TIF (tax increment financing) district but in reverse,” said state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest), who spearheaded the effort to pass the brownfield zone legislation.

In a TIF district, a town typically sells bonds to pay for site improvements, such as streets and sewer lines, and pays off the bonds with the property and sales tax revenue generated by development within the district.

“But this (redevelopment zone) would use income tax revenue after a company has developed a warehouse, manufacturing plant or other such project,” Davis said. “It is not for commercial businesses, but specifically for manufacturing and warehouse-type development created as part of the intermodal operation in the area.”

Davis mentioned the old Wyman-Gordan manufacturing plant in Harvey as a site that could benefit from such a subsidy.

“There are brownfields around railroad tracks throughout the south suburbs that have been cleaned up by the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) but need work to make them usable by business investors,” Davis said.

“That work could include infrastructure like sidewalks, lighting, water and sewer improvements or it could include help with acquiring some of these smaller, scattered sites in larger parcel of land.”

The redevelopment zone is capped at $3.5 million a year for seven years.

In the meantime, municipalities surrounding the proposed airport near Peotone hope to get a similar development zone, perhaps during the fall session of the legislature.

Under the legislation giving IDOT the authority to govern the airport, IDOT is mandated to reach out to the communities near the site to discuss such a zone.

The mayors of Peotone, Crete, Beecher and Monee would like to form a joint development area on land within their jurisdiction that surrounds the proposed airport site.

Crete Mayor Michael Einhorn, who has been a leader in the effort, worries that if an airport is built, future businesses would try to play the four small suburbs off each other to obtain the best tax incentive packages.

Some unincorporated areas, controlled by Will County government, also surround the airport site. And given Will County’s political clout, it likely would not only become a partner in any development zone but play a dominant role.

In addition to business development, the airport site eventually would require stormwater and road improvement projects that could be mitigated by Will County or obstructed by it if it’s not part of the development zone.

“We hope that IDOT will aggressively reach out to those communities during the summer, form committees with local leaders and come up with a proposal for a development zone that could be voted on in the fall session of the Legislature,” said Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.

One question that ought to be asked is whether forming such a development zone makes sense prior to selecting a private developer for the airport.

IDOT’s new mandate under the law includes entering into a pubic-private partnership with an airport developer. The state hopes to solicit bids for a private partner before the year ends.

But there are only a few companies worldwide that have experience in building and developing public-private airports.

Giving a company input into how land surrounding the airport site would develop could be crucial to how much money the state could make decades into the future and the potential profits the private company could reap.

Any developer likely would want some input into how off-site development could impact future runways, hotel construction and access to roads, just to name a few concerns.

George Ochsenfeld, president of STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down), sounded resolved to the fact that a project he has opposed for more than a decade now will be moving forward.

“I believe this governor is truly committed to a 20th century economic development for the 21st century,” Ochsenfeld said. “Its future, whether it becomes a white elephant, will depend on whether the air transportation economy improves and on gasoline prices.

“I have reservations about that both for the airport and the Illiana (Expressway). And I am concerned about the powers of eminent domain granted to IDOT under the governing legislation. I don’t believe the government should have the power to quick-take privately owned property.”

Davis explained that the $71 million for purchasing land within the inaugural airport footprint came from an existing capital development bond and not from the state’s operating budget.

“The state may indeed be in an economic crisis, but we still have to spend money to grow,” Davis said. “This is money that had to be spent on a capital project and could not be used to balance the budget.”

I’ve complained for years about the state’s neglect of the south suburbs.

This was a milestone legislative session for the Southland.



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