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Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Springfield City Council signaled last night that they were pulling the plug on the Bright New Day redevelopment project. Led by Rick Lawrence, Bright New Day was trying to redevelop the properties at 518, 520, and 524 E. Monroe Street. However, after years issues and delays, the city has withdrawn its TIF funds from the project. Both the city and developers said that without the TIF funds, the project will likely collapse.

Bright New Day was a substantial undertaking in terms of scope, funding, and complexity. The plan was to renovate three downtown buildings and bring them back into productive use. Actually accomplishing this would require millions in funding. Commonly referred to at the “three legged stool,” Lawrence was relying on private financing, various state tax credits, and TIF money from the city. Corporation Council for the city frequently mentioned this project was incredibly complex.

But as is so often the case with complex projects, there were serious problems and delays. In the end, Lawrence missed several of the contractual deadlines he had with the city. By missing these deadlines and not getting extensions from the city, the project lost access to its TIF funds. These deadlines form the heart of the issue that was discussed last night.

The final debate

The discussion at last night’s city council meeting was full of sound and fury. Mayor Langfelder and Alderman McMenamin defended giving Lawrence more time, and not to rescind the TIF money yet. They were joined by several community members who spoke to Mr. Lawrence’s good character. They argued that by rescinding the money, it would send a chilling message to future development. No TIF money was actually paid out to the project so far. However, because the TIF money had been appropriated, it was not available for other projects. More practically, Langfelder pointed out that a foreclosure process would take more than the 90 days Lawrence was asking for to get a new lender.

There was plenty of opposition as well. Other aldermen said that this project was something they supported in theory. But they said that this project should be treated the same as any other project, and the city had been more than accommodating with the delays and other issues arising from the project.

Unions that had worked on the project also spoke out against it. They cited a long list of grievances including not being paid their proper benefits. According to Alderman Hanauer, this was very surprising because by canceling the city’s support, they might not get paid at all. However, the union representatives said that they were unsure any amount of money to Mr. Lawrence would ensure they got paid.

In the end, the impassioned speeches signified nothing. This ordinance is mostly symbolic. It was repeatedly noted that the agreement between the city and Bright New Day had expired and was unfulfilled on Lawrence’s part. Any outcome on this ordinance would have had a very similar practical outcome. It did pass 8-1-1.

What comes next

The future is dim for the Bright New Day redevelopment. As Alderman Theilen explained after the meeting, what this move really does is prevent there from being another extension to the original redevelopment agreement with the city. Because that agreement had already expired, Lawrence had already lost his immediate access to the TIF dollars. Although he said he was making progress with another lender, Theilen pointed out that lender would have to know Lawrence did not have the TIF dollars he thought he did.

But while things look down for the Bright New Day project, it may not be over. None of the aldermen spoke out against the project in theory, and all of them are for downtown development. If the new lender comes through, it is very likely that new a TIF deal could be reached with the city.

You can watch the full debate in the player above.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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America’s newspapers are vanishing, with Illinois losing more than most

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When a newspaper closes or stops providing local content, it’s bad news for the local community, according to an updated report.

Since 2004, hundreds of local newspapers have closed up shop. The author of a report on this trend said areas without a local paper suffer in a variety of ways.

A study by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Media at the University of North Carolina says newspapers have shuttered at a high rate since 2004, many of which happened shortly after the recession in 2008.

“In total, the United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies,” the report found. “Roughly half of the remaining 7,112 papers in the country – 1,283 dailies and 5,829 weeklies – are located in small and rural communities. The vast majority – around 5,500 – have circulations under 15,000.”

Illinois lost 157 weekly papers since 2004, most located in suburban Chicago as many merged with larger daily publications like the Chicago Tribune. This is among the highest number of closings in the country.

“Illinois has lost a tremendous number of newspapers,” said professor Penelope Muse-Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina and author of the study. “Newspapers have been the prime, if not sole, source of grassroots coverage of events that affect the quality of life for people in a community.”

The study was updated recently from an initial publication in 2016.

Behind a lack of revenue to support the local publications are decades of declining readership. According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. daily newspaper readership fell by 11 percent in 2017.

Muse-Abernathy said local newspapers have three main benefits to the area they serve: Coverage and oversight of local government; encouragement of regional economic growth and development; and social cohesion.

Often, smaller newspapers will merge with a larger one nearby and then reduce coverage of the area to cut costs, something the report dubs “ghost papers.” Ghost papers offer little to no local content.

“What you have is a paper that was a standalone newspaper in 2004 that has been gradually merged with a parent, usually a large metro daily,” she said. “They first become zoned editions and then tend to morph into an online-only presence with greatly-diminished resources.”

Studies have shown cities without local investigative journalists are more likely to raise taxes and become more inefficient.

The “news deserts” can be found in urban, rural and suburban areas across the nation, but most have one common trait: Poverty.

The report found that locations that had no local newspaper presence had a poverty rate of 18 percent, higher than the 13 percent average nationwide. Residents were also typically older and less educated.

The reason, according to Stanford University economist James Hamilton, is that residents of low-income areas tend to be overlooked by advertisers because they’re less likely to buy subscriptions and have less access to digital media offerings.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Illinois Secretary of State warns about marijuana investment scams

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Pot is a growing business in Illinois and other states.

And that means marijuana investment scams are becoming a growing problem.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White issued a warning about investment scams last week. Canada became the second country to legalize recreational marijuana use. Sales there started last week. In the U.S., nine states and Washington D.C. allow for recreational use of marijuana while many other states allow for medical use. The drug remains illegal under federal law.

“Whenever something is in the news, people who are on the wrong side of the ledger, want to line their pockets,” White said. “They come up with the various schemes to take your hard earned money. And we want to do all that we can to keep these people out of your pocket, so to speak.”

White said people need to do their research before investing in anything, especially the new marketplace of marijuana.

“The company must be registered with the state of Illinois,” White said. “If you have any questions about it, you can go to the website AvoidTheScam.net.”

White said the North American Securities Administrators Association has information on scammers and other flagged-businesses.

If you have been scammed, White said the securities department inside the Secretary of State’s office needs to know.

Article by Benjamin Yount, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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Illinois manufacturers, farmers eager for new trilateral trade deal

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Illinois’ manufacturing and farming communities are excited about the new trilateral trade agreement President Donald Trump announced between the U.S, Mexico and Canada. But the state’s leading manufacturers’ group says Illinois must address its poor business climate and farmers say the U.S. must continue making deals with other countries in the face of a trade war with China.

After months of trade uncertainty, Trump said Canada is now on board with Mexico to forge a new trade deal with the United States. He decried the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by the U.S. in the 1990s as a horrible deal and campaigned to get rid of it. On Monday, he said he’s fulfilled that promise.

Called the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA), Trump said it will make North America a manufacturing powerhouse.

“That means more auto parts and more automobiles will be manufactured in the United States,” Trump said. “We will be manufacturing many more cars.”

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association’s Mark Denzler said that’s great news for the state’s automotive manufacturers that employ thousands of workers. It’s also good news for chemical, pharmaceutical and food manufacturers, he said.

But Denzler warned Illinois could miss the boat if it doesn’t address the state’s negative attributes.

“Workers’ compensation, higher taxes, we’re looking at a graduated income tax for example, higher minimum wage, all of these things add up and make it more difficult to do business in the state of Illinois,” Denzler said.

Illinois has the highest workers’ compensation costs in the Midwest, and seventh highest in the nation. The state’s property taxes are also among the highest in the country.

For farmers, Trump said the USMCA opens up the North American marketplace to make things more fair and reciprocal.

“The deal includes a substantial increase in our farmer’s opportunities to explore American wheat, poultry, eggs and diary, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream,” Trump said.

Trump had long blasted Canada for having a nearly 300 percent tariff on U.S. dairy products.

While Illinois dairy products may take a backseat to dairy products from states bordering Canada, Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert said the trade deal is still great news. He said trade negotiations must now continue elsewhere.

“Let’s work on the other countries as well, the [European Union], Japan and build those markets knowing that China is going to be a little ways down the road,” Guebert said.

In an effort to curb what he called unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft, Trump has imposed tariffs on all kinds of Chinese products. China has responded in kind with no end in sight.

The USMCA trade pact must still be ratified by all three countries before it replaces the NAFTA agreement.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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