Redeveloping our downtown is important because…
Downtown Lincoln is the heart of our community. We want it to be a vibrant, prosperous, and popular place for not only businesses, but residents and visitors. We envision it as a wonderful place to live and work, to meet people, to see art and local history, to watch movies and be entertained, to enjoy great food, and to participate in festivals, events, and holidays.
Lincoln was blessed to receive a $675,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to facilitate the redevelopment of our downtown. Work is currently underway on the planning portion of that grant. Preliminary recommendations for downtown redevelopment were recently unveiled at a public meeting at the Lincoln Public Library. In late March preliminary recommendations will be released for street-level improvements downtown: such things as improvements to sidewalks, lighting, benches, landscaping, parking, and other public spaces.
With these plans in place, Lincoln will be ready for the next steps in making a redeveloped downtown a reality. Here are the next three steps we need to take:
1. Create a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District for downtown.
The downtown TIF District will be a special area designated in our community where naturally occurring property tax growth is captured and used to fund improvements within that district. Through the establishment of a TIF, we can have funding in place to make long-term investments in downtown that will lead to future growth. It’s a way for us to fund the improvements ourselves and not have to rely on grant funding or dollars from already shaky State and federal governments. One of the beauties of a TIF District is that it does not raise anyone’s taxes — it only captures any growth in those taxes caused by improvements, new construction, or increases in assessments. That growth is kept in a separate fund that can only be used for improvements within the established district.
2. Make the streetscape improvements to downtown.
You don’t have to be in downtown too long to realize that our sidewalks are tired and failing, we have very little public gathering space (whether it be for outdoor dining or simply a place to stop and chat), and we need to upgrade the overall attractiveness of our downtown public spaces. The downtown planning effort is going to release plans to improve all of those areas. It is vitally important that we find the funding to actually make those improvements. Public investments make a statement to the outside world about what a community values. Public investments also attract private investments. In each case it’s easy for others to follow if a community steps out and makes public improvements with public dollars (such as TIF funding as created above). The City needs to take the lead in securing funding to make streetscape improvements to downtown Lincoln.
3. Leverage the public investments made in Step #2 to attract additional dining, entertainment, and retail businesses.
Even with a TIF District in place and funding secured for public space improvements, we still need to be intentional and proactive when it comes to attracting additional food, entertainment, and shopping options for downtown. Meaningful business attraction rarely happens by itself — it takes effective marketing, progressive attraction efforts, and coordinated work by the City, downtown businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Partnership, Main Street Lincoln, and the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau. With hard work in all three of those areas, we can bring exciting new opportunities to downtown and create the vibrant, prosperous, and popular place we all want to see.