By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Columbia, Ill., is in the process of creating a new tax increment finance district in hopes of enabling an imaginative reuse of a full block of Main Street.
The target property consists of the Immaculate Conception parish church, rectory, convent and school. Local developer Greg Crawford is planning to undertake the project of converting the parochial school campus into an entertainment destination.
The church, rectory and convent are all vacant. The school is still in operation and the parish is in the process of raising money to build a new school adjacent to the new church on Palmer Road.
Paul Ellis, the city’s director of community and economic development said that Crawford has a good track record and is well known in the area for his revitalization and redevelopment work. He said Crawford became interested in the campus project after learning about similar projects in the Northwest.
“I worked with a developer about 10 years ago in Tacoma, Wash,” Ellis said. “They took on a similar school property and made it into an entertainment destination. They put a movie theatre in there, some bars, a restaurant and a boutique hotel. They took some of the classrooms and turned them into lodging.”
Ellis said that Crawford was excited about taking on the new project but it’s simply not feasible to repurpose these old buildings without TIF assistance.
“This is a very unique project,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be unique in the Metro East certainly and may be in the whole region. The buildings are not up to the current codes and it’s a little bit of the roll of the dice so, by providing TIF assistance, we can help him make this work. Otherwise, this entire block might end up derelict and abandoned so this is a perfect solution in a lot of ways.”
The City Council has completed the eligibility study, passed an inducement resolution and held the first meeting of the joint review board. The public hearing was scheduled for April 4. Assuming everything goes well, the city council could vote to create the district two weeks later. Meanwhile, Ellis and the city attorney are beginning negotiations with Crawford on the redevelopment agreement.
Ellis said that Crawford will be leasing the school back to the parish until they’ve completed their fundraising and have built a new school. He estimated that it will probably be three to five years before the project is completed.
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Columbia aims to revamp section of main with thoughtful TIF approach