IBJ: How long have the two of you been here?
Kennett: One year, July 1.
Joyce: My four-year anniversary was May 26.
IBJ (to Joyce): What has transpired the most for you during that time?
Joyce: Of course, we saw the Route 159 expansion and straightening through the Uptown area. Now, Streetscape (Phase) 3 is coming to fruition. Phases 1 and 2 are completed; that’s primarily along Main Street. As part of the Route 159 reconfiguration, we used some ITEP funding to do the decorative street lights and the lighting standards along 159.
Phase 3 is what’s going on around City Hall right now (Center Street from Main to Church and the north side of Church from Clinton to 159). We’re not doing anything to the structure of City Hall; we’re just reconfiguring the front area to make it more attractive and inviting. Right now (the area) is parking lot — there’s three spaces on a concrete pad. This will be much nicer. (A 50-spot parking lot is becoming available with the recent razing of the old post office across from City Hall on Center Street.)
IBJ: Where does that stand?
Joyce: The post office is down. The bid from construction was awarded (June 23) at the council meeting. The contractor that’s doing the streetscape construction also was the low bidder on the parking lot, so that will work out really well that we don’t have two different contractors coordinating construction in the same area.
IBJ: Are there many buildings needing to be filled in the Uptown core?
Joyce: Honestly, just a handful of buildings really. And some are in varying degrees of condition, everything from one building that had a fire and is in really, really rough shape to a very clean space that someone could be moved into tomorrow.
IBJ: What have been some of the recent changes in Uptown?
Joyce: The Apex building (at Main and Center streets) was recently bought by Main Street Developers LLC from Columbia, which is going to put in the Grill and Grape (restaurant) and five high-end lofts.
Friday’s South (restaurant at 106 E. Main St.) bought the building next to them and is expanding and doubling their size.
On Center and Main there is a large vacant building that has in the past been a restaurant. We’re hoping that opening up this area and building the parking lot will draw interest to fill that building.
I’ve seen a lot of people utilize our Uptown TIF program. They come in and completely rehab spaces and open a new business. All but one of the major Uptown renovations in recent years utilized the TIF program.
You’ve also heard of the Martha Manning building (at 701 and 703 W. Main St.). We purchased a warehouse and a low-income apartment complex that we’re going to tear down and create a new park like, entryway (to Uptown).
IBJ: Kind of a green space thing to greet people as they come in?
Joyce: Yes. New signage, just make it a park, instead of a warehouse.
Kennett: It’s all based on the Uptown Master Plan.
IBJ: Is the idea to make improvements here and see things blossom from there?
Joyce: Absolutely. You can physically watch, after you do the streetscape, all the owners improve their buildings. When the city invests in an area, you’ll see the private sector come in.
IBJ (to Kennett): Your last year has been spent on the bigger picture. Tell us what it took to learn your turf.
Kennett: I’ve grown up in Madison County. I’d worked in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, but I didn’t really know much about Collinsville. One of the first things when I came aboard was stakeholder interviews. I went around and met with 64 business leaders, whether they were city leaders or city business owners or regional economic development people or regional businesses, to get an overall picture. It touched on a lot of different areas, from workforce to tourism to how the city operates a structure. That really helped me get a perspective and kind of learn what had happened in the past, what had worked and what hadn’t worked.
IBJ: Were they pretty open about things that had transpired?
Kennett: Yes, when you’re new, people will tell you everything. But you kind of filter out the personal bias. What it boiled down to was four main areas we wanted to look at with the council — a comprehensive plan, regional community branding, public relations and examining economic development incentives.
The comprehensive plan, that’s really under planning and zoning’s department, but as far as economic development we want to enhance it. Regional community branding was my big thing. One of the things that came out of stakeholder interviews, was that a lot of people weren’t familiar with Collinsville. They knew it was in between the two county seats (Edwardsville and Belleville). They knew they always passed it on the interstate. They knew about Uptown, but for the most part people didn’t have a connection with Collinsville and what it was.
Our biggest asset obviously is transportation — interstate infrastructure, for logistics, for retail, those types of things. We worked with a graphic design firm to create the Destination Collinsville brand. It’s based on transportation, because whenever you talk about retail and office and corporate headquarters, they need to be able to have access to people on both sides of the river. And since you can get a view of St. Louis right here in Collinsville, that works out pretty well.
So that has taken us to being able to identify sites for expansion and create us as being a destination for industry, a destination for corporate headquarters, a destination for retail.
IBJ: You came in about the time that the economy was starting to pick up a bit.
Kennett: We have the luxury of time with planning. Whenever things are slowing down, if you can make a strategic plan or a strategic effort, once the economy bounces back, you’re ready to go. We can hit the ground running.
We got our new website for economic development. Brokers and small business owners looking to come to the city can get the information right there.
One of the (four goals) is public relations. We’re kind of doing things like this (interview), informing more people about what’s going on in Collinsville. how they can be part of our effort.
Joyce: It’s amazing. I think Collinsville is one of the most transparent communities I have ever seen, and makes the most effort to communicate to the citizens. We have a television station. We have a newsletter. Different departments have a newsletter. We’ve got Facebook. We’ve got Twitter. Still, so many people don’t know what’s going on in the city. You have to go and speak to them. When you go and show them renderings of what’s happening, there’s a new level of excitement, it’s awesome.
Kennett: We talked with all the regional players. A lot of them hadn’t had updates on what we were doing. It’s the relationship building that is very key with the developers, with the brokerage community, with the small businesses, and those that are expanding. Right now, they might not have a project, but you want to be on their mind, so they say, “That’s right, we can go to Collinsville to do that.”
Q&A with Erika Kennett, director of economic development/TIF, and Leah Joyce, Uptown coordinator, City of Collinsville
IBJ: How long have the two of you been here?