As many of you know, former Freeport Mayor Richard (Dick) Weis recently passed away. He will forever be remembered in Freeport as the “Big Kahuna” who had the big heart. If every public servant and politician modeled their life after Dick Weis, the world would undoubtedly be a better place. It was my honor to present Illinois House Resolution 287 honoring former Mayor Weis’s life and his career of public service – both as an elected official and a private citizen.
If you didn’t know anything else about Dick Weis, all you need to know is what his family has asked of those who wish to honor his memory. His service information reads: “In lieu of flowers, please honor Dick’s life by doing a random act of kindness for someone in need.” What a truly wonderful man, and what a wonderful family he leaves to carry on his legacy.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned House Bill 3096 – which creates the Lincoln-Douglas Tax Credit for a qualified rehabilitation of a historic structure located in the seven cities of which the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred. Since that column, I received several calls and e-mails asking for more information on the bill.
To properly explain the bill in context, we need to take a step back and take a quick look at another successful tax credit – The River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program (RERZ). The RERZ is also sometimes referred to as the “River’s Edge Tax Credit.”
The RERZ tax credit saw enormous success in spurring economic development in five cities: Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, Peoria and Rockford. Landmarks Illinois estimates that between those five cities, more than $200 million in private economic development has come as a direct result of that tax credit. Our neighbors to the east in Rockford have received the lion’s share of that economic boom, landing more than $120 million in developments with even more expected to come.
Ask just about any downtown Rockford business owner what has contributed to the downtown’s resurgence, and they will tell you, “It’s the River’s Edge tax credit.” Many of us have enjoyed a meal, or perhaps even a beverage, at the Prairie Street Brewhouse in downtown Rockford. The next time you’re eating dinner on the docks and you’re watching the boats float down the Rock River, just remember that none of that would be possible if it were not for the River’s Edge tax credit. Nearly a dozen projects like this have been made possible through the tax credit.
The RERZ credit became law in 2010, and at the end of last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an extension to keep the credit alive through the end of this year. And just last week, the Rockford City Council approved another multimillion-dollar project – a downtown hotel – that would have never come to fruition without the existence of the RERZ credit.
It worked for Rockford, so why not Freeport? That’s why I introduced HB 3096. My bill would give those seven communities across the state a chance to improve their historical downtowns through a tax credit that is much like the RERZ. This is something that Illinois’ bigger cities have already had the opportunity to utilize, but until this bill the mid-sized cities had been left out. If my bill passes, Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton would all be eligible for this tax credit. The six representatives of those other cities (both Republican and Democrat) have signed on to my bill, and I will be working to recruit more co-sponsors in the future.
This bill would be a game-changer not only for Freeport, but also for the entire region. As we saw in Rockford, when private investments were made in the downtown, employers added jobs. HB 3096 means investment, opportunity and jobs for the 89th District, so that is why I will be working hard to do everything I can to push this extremely important bill.
I can’t help but think of “Field of Dreams” when we talk about economic development. The iconic line from the movie was, “If you build it, (they) will come.” But I guess in this case, the situation is only slightly different. In this case, the quote should be “If you pass it, they will build. And if you build it, they will come.”