Southwestern Illinois TIF Success Stories
Columbia using TIF to pursue development of Admiral Trost Development Park
By PAUL A. ELLIS
Formerly blighted property along Illinois 3 and Valmeyer Road has blossomed under the benefits of Columbia’s Admiral Parkway Redevelopment Area. With five years remaining in its lifespan, the district’s dedication of tax increment financing revenues has shifted to making localized public improvements. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the hydrology of the area, planning for future improvements, and funding key infrastructure investments—as much as possible, using public/private partnerships—will be key to a sustainable area.
Landmark partnerships and innovative planning have set the stage for new approaches to redeveloping what was once Columbia’s “back door” into its most vibrant employment center and a recreation mecca. The results are already evident driving through town, and even bigger changes are on the horizon.
The strong working relationship between the City of Columbia and Columbia Unit School District 4 culminated in a groundbreaking effort, jointly funded, to complete a 20-year master plan for the Admiral Trost Development Park. The park property, a 33-acre parcel virtually in the center of the Admiral Parkway Redevelopment Area, was donated to the city in 2007 for development of a municipal park; the parcel appeared to hold little commercial value due to its location almost entirely within a flood plain. Engaging the talents of St. Louis-based SWT Design and involving a broad representation from local individuals and groups, the master plan envisions more than $4 million in improvements ranging from wetland enhancements to a football field to a destination playground to a fitness trail. As one participant in the public process observed, “this plan will transform that 33 acres into a center for community gatherings, events and activities.”
Since the adoption of the master plan, an implementation team has been working to make sure that it is more than “shelf art” by pursuing funding for projects identified in the final document. One aspect of this effort is an application for an Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant (IGIG) to fund a $325,000 wetland enhancement submitted on behalf of the City by the HeartLands Conservancy; if successful, the grant will fund the agency’s management of the project (with the match contributed from TIF revenues). Recently, local leaders formed the PLAY (Parks and Leisure for Adults and Youth) Foundation to identify and secure private funding for projects identified in the master plan, among other parks & recreation needs city-wide.
The master plan included a proactive approach to addressed existing stormwater issues on the park site and downstream of the park property. This approach was initiated in the public forum as an opportunity to develop an aesthetically functional park landscape component. The development of wetland areas within the park create wildlife habitat, education opportunities along loop trails and boardwalks while providing a release location for Carr Creek during times of peak flow. Wetlands incorporated into the park site will create a unique experience while reducing stormwater volume and velocity downstream from the park where flooding is currently an issue.
But the Admiral Parkway Redevelopment Area isn’t just about parks or just about the environment. The plan will serve neighboring business and institutions through passive recreation and open space amenities including trails, shelters, and green space that can be used by these stakeholders for individual or group events. Developable parcels are currently available, allowing newcomers to move into the neighborhood of Maverick Technologies, The Falls Conference & Reception Center, a 77-room Hampton Inn hotel, a bank and several national retailers with easy access to — and visibility from — Illinois Route 3.