City eyes future growth, development

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Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2018 9:42 am | Updated: 11:10 am, Tue Aug 7, 2018.

Rt. 24-Nofsinger intersection options on table

Washington, whose city slogan was once “city on the grow”, is ready for further growth. After five years of focus on post-tornado recovery efforts, city officials are ready to pursue expansion opportunities. Chances for future development near the intersections of Illinois Route 24 and Nofsinger Road are among the opportunities under current study by city planners.

Plans for development at the intersection of Nofsinger and Rt. 24 call for a stoplight at the dangerous crossing-- something area residents have long clamored for-- according to Jon Oliphant, planning and development director for the City of Washington.

“We have some pretty big ideas on what could happen with the city’s ‘223 Property’, located at Nofsinger and 24, which we purchased close to five years ago,” Oliphant said last week at City Hall. “A big part of what may happen there will be dependent upon being able to realign the intersection there. Just before the tornado we had received money from IDOT (Illinois Dept. of Transportation) for the engineering, but everything the city was doing at the time was shelved as part of the rebuilding.”

Plans for the realignment have now been completed and approved by IDOT, resulting in a ‘green light’ for the intersection project.

Oliphant describes the options for developing the 223-acre property-- hence the parcel’s moniker-- as a “chicken and egg” scenario.

“If we are going to rely on getting some outside funding, we are going to have to include some kind of non-retail component to the overall development. Federal or state funding would assist with the realignment of the intersection. We budgeted part of that as our local match, so that is in place. It is now a matter of finding a developer that would take on all of that infrastructure work on their behalf or, again, have it be a development that allows us to qualify for the types of funding that would assist and leverage off of the city funding that is in place,” he said. 

City Council discussions have led to a consensus that the development should not significantly impact the district’s schools. Increasing the city’s sales tax base should be the goal of the project, while increasing Washington’s daytime population and providing reasonable wages for workers.

“The fact that the city owns the property can take out the middleman of sorts and go directly to a developer who might be interested in the property. This allows a little bit of flexibility to (decide) what we would like to see here and to compromise on, so we are not at the mercy of a private landowner,” Oliphant said. “We are optimistic that we will eventually see a development there that will be dynamic and hopefully support some of the other services and businesses that we have here in the city.”

There is 190 acres of the development that lies on the southeast corner of the intersections of Rt. 24 and Nofsinger Road, while another 30-plus acres reside on the northeast corner. Challenges developers will face include the lack of a stoplight at the intersection, which has been the site of several fatal collisions since construction of the Rt. 24 Washington “bypass” bisected former farmland in the 1980s.

“The plans would include a stoplight that IDOT has already signed off on. They would realign the intersection to the 90-degree skew that IDOT wants to see these days,” according to the city planner. “The intersection obviously is not currently safe. We want to do everything in our power to ensure that safety is the top goal.”

The city has contacted a third-party site selector in an attempt to attract a food processing facility to the intersection, although a location on Freedom Parkway-- also a target for future expansion-- may seem a better fit, Oliphant said. A mixture of residential, business and retail-- akin to something like Alexis Khazzam’s Junction City renovation-- might also be an interesting option to consider, he said when queried.

“We want to be able to take advantage of the proximity to 24 with some kind of development that would have that kind of accessibility and visibility. We would be looking at non-residential ideally, but if there was some residential, it would be something that would not significantly impact the schools and have a mixed-use component such as residential above retail. Council has made it clear, however, that they would prefer non-residential.”

The city is looking to encourage growth on Freedom Parkway now that water and sewer infrastructure extensions have been completed. “This is a great location behind WalMart that may be suited for some light industrial,” said Oliphant. “Right now we don’t have a lot of light industrial in the city, but a lot of what we do have is along that Cummings Lane corridor, making it compatible.”

Existing businesses on the rebuild

Oliphant provided an update on current rebuilding projects undertaken by Uftring Auto Sales and Illinois Valley Plastics, two of the city’s larger employers. Structure framing is visible at Uftring Auto, the site of a major fire last winter, after a groundbreaking ceremony was held in the spring.

A church is set to occupy the former Tractor Supply Store segment of the former WalMart building Uftring’s is now occupying as its dealership. “The church was willing to wait a year to allow Uftring’s to occupy the facility. Uftring’s plans to be in their new facility by the end of the year,” said Oliphant. “Sometime in the first half of next year, the church plans to finish their upgrade of the facility.”

At IVP, where accumulated snow caused one-third of the structure’s roof to collapse in March, the framework appeared nearly complete last week. “It is essentially a brand-new structure,” said Oliphant.

Meanwhile, the city continues to attract new, smaller businesses that are taking advantage of past expansions and living in the shadows of anchor stores like WalMart and Menards. “We have certainly had a number of new businesses come in over the last year or so, and like with many communities they have been smaller businesses, typically with not more than 15 or 20 employees,” said Oliphant. “But when you add them up, it is certainly significant for our community. This should increase with the expansion of Freedom Parkway and development of the city’s 223 Property. We are excited about all of the possibilities for the future.”

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