CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today unveiled an innovative new program designed to help revitalize riverfront areas across the state by providing communities, developers and businesses with the critical tools to revive and redevelop abandoned or contaminated properties that will stimulate economic development opportunities and create more Illinois jobs. The Governor will highlight this initiative in his Budget Address on Wednesday, and it will include legislation that will be sponsored by State Senator James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis) and State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora).
The proposed River Edge Redevelopment Initiative includes the designation of redevelopment zones across Illinois that will be eligible to receive tax credits, exemptions and $20 million in new grant funding to support clean-up, remediation and redevelopment efforts that will lead to economic revitalization in these areas. This initiative combines resources across state agencies and will be administered primarily by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
“To promote a healthy and vibrant economy, we are targeting areas of the state that have the greatest need for redevelopment and potential for growth. River communities were the original economic engines of Illinois, and there are countless underutilized and abandoned properties along major waterways prime for redevelopment,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “This River Edge Redevelopment Initiative seeks to provide municipalities and businesses with the additional resources they need to be able to clean up brownfield sites, spur additional growth and create more opportunities for our working families.”
The River Edge Redevelopment Zones would consist of environmentally challenged areas that lie adjacent to a river that have economic development potential, but the cost of redevelopment have made attracting investment extremely difficult. These zones would be structured similarly to the current Enterprise Zone designation, where municipalities would apply directly to the state to become a River Edge Redevelopment Zone. Once a zone has been approved, developers and businesses could be eligible for tax exemptions, including sales tax on building materials, an investment and jobs tax credit and various other deductions. Companies or individuals in the zones could also be eligible for an environmental remediation tax credit for certain clean-up costs.
This proposal would also include $20 million in new grant funding to assist with redevelopment activity in a River Edge Redevelopment Zone. Municipalities, developers and companies located in these zones would be eligible to receive funding to support infrastructure needs for economic revitalization projects, which will ultimately lead to job creation and economic development in a zone. While many of these areas were home to former industrial sites, they are now ideal settings for new residential, office, warehouse/distribution, retail, recreational, hospitality, commercial and other productive land uses.
“We are always looking for innovative ways to take advantage of all of our assets to continue growing the economy and creating more jobs. Gov. Blagojevich’s River Edge Redevelopment Initiative is exactly the kind of spark needed to turn promise into prosperity by allowing our river communities to attract more private investment and economic development opportunities,” State Senator James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis) said.
“Gov. Blagojevich and I are committed to ensuring that our river communities won’t sit on the sidelines as important redevelopment projects float past them. This creative program will provide businesses and towns the tools they need to spur renewed interest in prime properties that once were and still can be key components of Illinois’ economy. This is a great chance for an economic revival for cities across the state,” State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) said.
“We have an opportunity here in Aurora, and across Illinois, to revitalize land that has been languishing for years without providing any economic benefits to our taxpayers. Gov. Blagojevich and I understand that by making this kind of important investment, we can open the door to economic development opportunities that have been closed for far too long. I look forward to working closely with the Governor and the members of the General Assembly to move the River Edge Redevelopment Initiative forward,” Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said.
“Across the state, we constantly hear about the need to redevelop old, underutilized and contaminated properties. But developers and businesses generally won’t make significant investments in areas that require significant amounts of remediation. With this River Edge Redevelopment Initiative, Gov. Blagojevich is providing vital resources to offset some of these costs so we can bring more opportunities and jobs to these areas,” said DCEO Director Jack Lavin.
Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties that have actual or perceived contamination and an active potential for redevelopment. Brownfields vary in size, location, age and past use, and can include contaminated land varying from a multi-acre closed factory to a vacant gas station. While brownfields were once considered to be only an environmental health issue, they are now fully recognized as areas with the potential to play a vital role in the economic development of a community. In Illinois, there are an estimated 7,000-10,000 brownfields sites in need of remediation.
“As a former Mayor of a river community, I know that brownfield sites, especially those with abandoned properties, present significant roadblocks to redevelopment. Municipalities often don’t have enough resources to make a site viable for potential economic development projects. What Gov. Blagojevich is proposing is a new, integrated set of tools that will lead to a renaissance along our river banks,” said IEPA Director Doug Scott.
Since Gov. Blagojevich took office, the clean-up of contaminated sites has accelerated in Illinois with thousands of acres at more than 400 sites cleaned up for redevelopment, recreational or natural habitat use. Through the Municipal Brownfield Redevelopment Program, the Illinois EPA has provided the initial funding and customized technical assistance for environmental assessments and clean-ups for 119 municipalities, of which 44 are located along rivers. These grants of up to $240,000 each per community have been the catalyst for future redevelopment in such river cities as the Quad Cities, Aurora, East St. Louis, Alton, Dixon, Freeport, Geneva, Ottawa, Peoria, Rockford, Sterling and Streator. This initiative leverages these investments already made in these river communities.
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.