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Business Development District could bring in ’New Deal’ for Pekin

Mike Kramer
mkramer@timestoday.com

The city of Pekin hopes that the proposed creation of a Business Development District (BDD) will result in a municipal New Deal.

“I believe Pekin’s at a crossroads,” said Pekin City Manager Mark Rothert. “If we’re happy with the way things are, let the status quo remain. But, if we really want to see improvements; see our community grow, and have good infrastructure, job development and reinvestment; we need to utilize the tools that we have available to us to make that happen.”

Two of the biggest challenges facing Pekin are the lack of infrastructure and a general lack of investment in community growth and development, Rothert added. A large investment is needed to reverse what he perceives to have been years of under-investment in capital expenditures, infrastructure and growth. Specific areas that Rothert identified as being in need of infrastructure improvements and maintenance included Court Street and Derby Street.

“We’ve been struggling for the last decade or more in figuring out what to do with Court Street,” he said. “We’ve not only gotten some grant money that has helped, we’ve also gotten $20 million in grant funding through the Capital Bill and other means to do Court Street. However, Court Street is a $33 million project at this point. So, there is a funding gap still there, and that’s something a BDD would help with.”

According to Rothert, a BDD is a geographical area that creates funding to help address major issues facing the community, such as Pekin’s need for street, sidewalk and storm water improvements. Funding for a BDD comes from a sales tax of up to 1% on goods and products bought at retail within the district, as well as, a 1.0% increase in the hotel/motel tax. Pekin’s proposed BDD will begin at the Illinois River and follow Court Street as far as Veterans Drive. The district will also include Derby Street and north Eighth Street.

“Those are the major commercial areas in the community, so we decided to include this whole area as the Business Development District,” Rothert said. “We felt that there’s a lot of investment in public infrastructure and business development growth potential in these areas.”

BDD funds can be used for business development and improvements, rebuilding infrastructure, improving neighborhoods, developing vacant land, and removing blight and deterioration. Rothert estimated that the BDD will generate over $3 million in new revenue annually, while resulting in economic growth and revitalization. As the owner of a business in the proposed BDD, Dan Steinbach, owner of The Twisted Spoke Saloon on Derby Street, hopes BDD funds will help make much-needed renovations possible there.

“Derby Street used to be the main street for businesses in Pekin,” he said. “(The city) let it go over the years, and I wish they hadn’t done that. (The BDD would) give us an opportunity to revitalize it and bring it back to life. “

The Tazewell Animal Improvement of Life Society (TAiLS) operates the used bookstore TAiLS of a Bookworm on Court Street, which will be within the proposed BDD. TAiLS vice president Chad Kautz said that BDD funds applied to infrastructure improvements on Court Street and to the Courtside Shopping Center, where TAiLS of a Bookworm is located, would be a welcome development.

“The plaza here is fairly dated and can use some improvements,” he said. “The roads and sidewalks definitely could as well. I think that would be to everyone’s advantage.”

Improvements specific to TAiLS of a Bookworm that would like to see include new bookshelves and fixtures, updated lighting, new window shields. The most pressing need, he added, would be the new bookshelves and fixtures.

“The store here had been in business for 13 years,” explained. “We just took it over last May. All the fixtures and everything have been here for 13 years or so.”

The city plans several steps to mitigate the impact that Pekin residents and businesses will see through a BDD sales tax increase, according to Rothert. They include reducing property taxes by 10 % on the city’s portion; lowering monthly Sewer Maintenance Fees and increasing them to current levels over the next four years; and realizing consumer savings through successful electric aggregate billing.

“Taken together, those savings would substantially reduce the impact of the BDD sales tax to near break-even in the first year,” he said. This would allow the city to still benefit from those visiting and shopping in the community. The City could shift more of the burden for infrastructure maintenance and repair to external users of our (community). Lastly, the BDD would serve as a dedicated funding stream for infrastructure improvements and business and economic development.”