SPRINGFIELD_MAYOR.jpgKEN EXUM/The Register-Mail

Springfield Mayor Timothy J. Davlin, center, looks to Springfield Director of Economic Develoment Mike Farmer to confirm a fact as he speaks about the impact of the Lincoln Museum on the economy of Springfield Wednesday at Best Western Pairie Inn. Greg Mangieri, director of GREDA, looks on.

Springfield mayor: RRHOF could boost our downtown

Galesburg can learn from Lincoln Museum's impact on capital city

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

GALESBURG - Springfield Mayor Timothy J. Davlin told Galesburg community and business leaders Wednesday about the success of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and how lessons learned in the capital city can help Galesburg prosper from the proposed National Railroad Hall of Fame.

The luncheon was at the Best Western Prairie Inn.

The Lincoln museum, which opened in April 2005, attracted 600,000 visitors its first year - twice the projection - and is preparing to welcome its one millionth visitor. Davlin said a tax increment financing district already in place downtown has helped the city use tourist dollars to completely change the face of downtown.

Mike Farmer, director of Springfield's Office of Planning and Economic Development, said the city has used its tax increment to renovate more than 100 historic facades of downtown buildings.

"We've brought a lot of dilapidated buildings back to the mainstream," he said.

Although Springfield already was a tourist attraction and has a population of 115,000 - 200,000 in the metro area - Davlin feels Galesburg can realize many of the same benefits. Galesburg has three TIFs and has applied to establish two more, one including the balance of downtown and another east of Interstate 74, near Main Street.

Farmer said the downtown TIF generates about $3.8 million annually for Springfield.

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KEN EXUM/The Register-Mail

Members of the Galesburg community listen to Springfield Mayor Timothy J. Davlin speak about the economic impact of the Lincoln Museum Wednesday at a luncheon at Best Western Prairie Inn.

Davlin said lofts downtown were redeveloped and there is a waiting list for the Lincoln Square Apartments in the central business district, a complex of 100 condominiums.

"The entire catalyst behind this has been the ALPLM (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)," he said.

Both men said one of the pleasant surprises was the large number of motor coach tours bringing visitors to the museum.

"Here in Galesburg, when you work with the tourist entities, work with these motor coach companies, because they bring them in by the bus load," Davlin said.

The mayor laughed and said a previous mayor said of visitors "Tourists are easier to shuck than corn."

President George W. Bush attended the opening of the Lincoln museum. Davlin said he hopes other presidents visit but advised you don't want them all at once.

"You really want to spread those individuals out because then you're on the national and the international map again," Davlin said.

Twenty years ago, Davlin said, Springfield averaged 25 to 30 motor coaches a day. In 2005, about 145,000 people were brought to the city on bus tours, Davlin said, with 186,000 already this year.

"You need to know the owners on a first name basis," he said. "We do everything we can to make it as easy as we can for them to get in and out."

Phil Dickinson, owner and manager of the Landmark Cafe and Creperie, asked Davlin how much more tax money the museum has meant for Springfield.

"We're probably up 15 percent in our sales tax. Remarkably, our hotel/motel tax is about the same," Davlin said.

The officials from Springfield also talked about the basics.

"I would advise you to have a quality book store," Farmer said of the Railroad Hall of Fame, a $60 million project officials hope will open in 2009. Farmer said the gift shop at the Lincoln museum had more then $1 million in sales its first year.

"No one leaves there without buying something," Davlin agreed.

One man in the audience asked if the boom downtown has hurt sales at shopping centers.

"Downtown is primarily speciality retail, which is really focused on the business traveler and the tourist," Farmer said. "There's really not a lot of chains in downtown Springfield," although he admitted they are getting more inquiries from larger chains wanting to locate downtown.

Davlin advised Hall of Fame officials to keep everyone involved and said, "until you have your state senators and your congressional delegation behind you, you're going to move very slowly. They're the catalyst. You can't do it without the feds. We were lucky we had Abe Lincoln living in our neighborhood."

Galesburg Mayor Gary Smith presented Davlin with the key to the city, the first official to receive one with a new design recently added.

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