Mapping

Effingham’s director of public works, Steve Miller, studies a planning map.

The City of Effingham’s planning map is a decade old. Its dotted lines for “proposed” roads and colorful shapes for “future” development have, in many cases, taken shape by now.

“When we look at these maps, it’s not all pie in the sky,” said the city’s director of public works, Steve Miller.

Many of those dotted lines have become roads and the colorful shapes have been filled with residences, restaurants, retail stores, and manufacturing operations. The city plans to revise the maps once a consultant is hired this fall, according to Mayor Jeff Bloemker.

And as the city nears a revision of its planning maps, officials have a clear vision for the next 10 to 15 years. They see residential housing sprouting up just outside the city limits, the type of businesses now populating N. Keller Drive spreading west along Outer Belt West, growth downtown along Jefferson Avenue, and more trucking companies gathering near exit 159.

Housing

Officials expect to fix the city’s housing crunch in the coming years.

“Every business we go to, the economic development team and I, we hear the same thing,” Bloemker said. “They say we need more rental properties.”

Bloemker organized a grassroots advisory committee of realtors, homebuilders, bankers, and other experts to advise the city and address that crunch. Because demolition costs are high and rent prices are low, Bloemker said the incentive to build rental housing in town hasn’t been strong.

But through rent increases and the city’s help, he thinks more developers will build rentals in place of old, dilapidated homes. Much of the housing will be built outside the city’s limits.

“I see the larger subdivisions being outside the city limits just because we don’t have the land available in town,” Miller said.

Last month, the council approved the development of more than 40 lots for single and multifamily dwellings near the Effingham Country Club. Miller expects the area east of Lake Sara to be a popular spot for builders as well.

Miller said that the city is on pace this year to have more building permits than it’s ever had before.

Commercial development

Officials say the recent opening of Chipotle Mexican Grill is just the latest example of developers seeking commercial property along N. Keller Drive. But space there is limited, so officials believe Outer Belt West, the Avenue of Mid America, and West Evergreen will be the next hot spot for restaurants, clothing stores, and more.

Miller said the utilities in that area are already in place for developers. And the strong local economy bodes well for growth there.

“I really believe in 10 to 12 years that Outer Belt West will be fleshed out,” Bloemker said.

Officials say the city’s Tax Increment Financing Districts and Business Districts have been huge motivators for companies moving to town. TIF districts put increases in property tax dollars toward improvements in that district. The Business Districts do the same, but they generate funding through a sales tax on certain goods and services.

Once one business locates in an area, others seem to follow.

“You get the domino effect,” Bloemker said. “They think, ‘If something’s going on in Effingham, Illinois, we need to be there.’”

Jefferson Avenue

Businesses along Jefferson Avenue are in a Downtown TIF Rehabilitation program. In the district, the city covers half the cost for building and facade improvements.

Though Bloemker said about one or two owners take advantage of the program each year, construction crews have been all over Jefferson this year.

“For some reason, this year it has just been bananas,” Bloemker said. “That’s what you want to see: the regeneration of the downtown area. At one time, the downtown area was everything.”

Since the program began in Fiscal Year 2003, about 50 businesses have received financial aid from the city for improvement projects.

“I believe all the projects have impacted the downtown and southtown areas significantly,” Economic Development Director Todd Hull said this summer. “The projects have helped to keep the areas vibrant. Effingham has one of the best looking downtowns in the state.”

With a good-looking downtown, Bloemker said Jefferson has become more popular place for community events.

“When people drive through downtown Effingham,,” he said, “They always remark on how great it looks.”

Bloemker would like to have more property owners here renting out apartments on the upper levels of the businesses. The Midland States Bank building, he said, could be a good spot for some.

And near Third Street, he wants to salvage the Art-Deco architecture of the historic Heart Theater that’s been vacant for about a decade. By the time he’s done being mayor, Bloemker would like to have something in the works there.

“We need to do something with the Heart Theater,” he said.

Trucking

Just off Interstate-57 exit 159, construction crews have spent the summer preparing land for a new Truck Centers Inc. location. It’s surrounded by other trucking businesses, and officials expect even more to come to the area.

“Effingham has always been known as a trucking hub, and that’s just getting ramped up,” Bloemker said.

“I think with 159, we’re going to continue to see truck development,” Miller said.

Because Effingham is intersected by two interstates, trucking companies see it as a prized place. Off exit 159, shops offer services and products specifically for truck drivers.

“The I-57/I-70 traffic corridor of Effingham is an ideal location for our newest dealership, as it sees approximately 18,000 trucks traveling daily through there,” Justin Hopkins, vice president of sales for Truck Centers, said at a city council meeting in the spring.

Stan Polanski can be reached at stan.polanski@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 131.

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