From a Springfield City Council perspective, the Brody Corners development saga came to a close March 7, with council voting to approve the project and its accompanying $3.4 million tax incentive.
From a broader perspective, things are just getting started at the 28-acre property at the intersection of West Sunshine Street and James River Freeway. Representing developer Mike Seitz of West Sunshine Development LLC, attorney Cory Collins of Husch Blackwell LLP told council members that if they approved the project and tax incentive March 7, work would begin the very next day.
Council, currently comprising eight members with a vacancy in the Zone 1 seat, voted 7-0 in favor of both measures, with Craig Hosmer abstaining on each for unspecified reasons.
Collins verified via email that the project had begun and should take a year to complete.
“The process of transforming this blighted eyesore into a new commercial development has begun immediately as promised,” Collins said.
The cost of the project is $27 million, and $3.4 million, or 12%, is reimbursable through the approved tax increment financing plan.
Costs that would be reimbursed through the TIF agreement include $2.4 million of an estimated $3 million in sitework expenses, $303,000 for off-site fresh water, $252,000 for off-site road work, $150,000 in professional fees and $300,000 in financing fees.
The developer’s planned investment covers $20.5 million in building costs, $1.8 million in land acquisition expenses and $700,000 in parking lot, lighting and signage fees. According to Sarah Kerner, economic development director for the city, projected tax revenues with the redevelopment over 23 years are $8 million, but without redevelopment, taxes would bring in only $288,000.
Councilperson Mike Schilling, who has criticized the city’s annexation of the polluted property that will be cleaned up for the development to proceed, expressed his support for the cleanup work.
“This is somewhat of a challenging proposal,” he said. “We’ve got to extend our water line and do some work on Sunshine [Street] out there near the intersection, some highway work to make it work. But basically, I see this as a needed reclamation/economic development project to get rid of that abandoned trailer court that’s been sitting there collecting trash for a number of years, and that needs to be done.”
At a special meeting Dec. 6, Schilling was vocal about what he perceived as a lack of transparency from city staff before council agreed to annex the county property. Previous owner RLB Properties LLC, which is based in Brookline, had operated a trailer court on the site, but upon its closure, the company left behind an open sewage lagoon that had leaked into sinkholes and contaminated area wells and drinking water, as well as pollution from illegal dumping, dilapidated structures, underground service lines in need of removal and concrete pads in poor condition, city officials say. The blighted condition was detailed in a report presented to council to support a vote declaring the property blighted and, therefore, eligible for the TIF plan.
Schilling stated at the time that if he had known the extent of the blight reported in the 201-page report, he would never have supported annexing the property into the city.
“It’s a hellish mess out there,” he said at the Dec. 6 meeting. “I don’t know why we took this pig in a poke anyway.”
At the March 7 meeting, Schilling said, “I hope if this is successful that it probably opens up some more development out that way. And I hope we can do that in a wise way, so we avoid the pitfalls of sprawl and more drive-thru burger joints.”
Collins previously told council the developer intends to clean up the site.
“We bought it with this in mind,” he said.
Collins also noted the development would bring public improvements to the area, like 3,200 feet of water line to serve all properties it fronts, as well as the extension of power lines.
“As part of the construction process, utilities will be brought to the area which have not previously existed and are anticipated to spur additional growth,” Collins said. “The anticipated ripple effect of this development will greatly enhance the offerings in this far western portion of Springfield, and we are excited to work with future tenants and companies who are interested in locating within Brody Corners.”
The developer previously stated an intention to include quick-service restaurants, retail and office space at the site.
Footbridge estimate jumps
Council authorized the city manager to apply for up to $8 million in grant funding for rehabilitation of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge from the U.S. Department of Transportation through its Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, Grant Program.
No match is required for the grant, if approved, because the Commercial Street area where the footbridge is located has been deemed a historically disadvantaged area.
The RAISE grant program is the successor to the BUILD program that is funding the Grant Avenue Parkway project, which does require a local match.
The city sought bids in 2021 to repair the 1902 footbridge, a 562-foot-long structure that crosses 16 sets of railroad tracks. The two bids that were received each more than double the $3 million engineering estimate, one at $6.2 million and the other at $6.4 million.
High material costs and contractor shortages were cited by city staff as reasons for the overage, as were the labor-intensive nature of the project and the risk of working over an active railroad.
Martin Gugel, assistant director of public works, said the grant focuses on supporting equitability in transportation.
“We believe the footbridge project checks a lot of those boxes,” he said.
Gugel said the city should know by August if it was chosen to receive funds.
“In the meantime, we’ll still continue to look for other funding options and other solutions for this particular project,” he said.
Other action items:
Council members questioned why the property owners were encouraged to go through the process of petitioning to council, since the property was not eligible under code.
“Members of City Council recognize the more than 1,500 Ukrainian Springfieldians who are part of our community family,” the resolution stated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.