Columbia Professional Center plans discussed

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Pictured is an engineer’s rendering of a building proposed as part of the Columbia Professional Center development.

The Columbia School Board received details from Joe Koppeis on his latest business development plans as it contemplates whether to approve a tax rebate agreement for the project.

Koppeis, who attended Thursday’s meeting along with Columbia City Council representatives, spoke of where he is at in the process of developing land on the north end of Columbia at North Main Street and Route 3 into a large professional center.

The first part of his project will consist of a five-story office building to be inhabited by Southwestern Illinois Medical Group and other physicians. More buildings are proposed in future phases.

“The project has a potential of being a $40 million development,” Koppeis said. “We’re trying to get the first building down to $10 million.”

Koppeis said there has been interest in eventually having senior condominiums, a hotel and a restaurant built on the site.

“This is something that’s going to last for generations,” he said. “It’ll really make a positive statement and impression on this community and county. It’s kind of my swan song, and it will be magnificent.”

The negatives of the project, Koppeis said, include needing $22 per square foot in rent.

“In Columbia, everyone pays between $10 and $12 per square foot, so we’re over market,” he said. “This is a risk that we’re willing to take.”

He talked about tax increment financing and tax abatements, because projects like these are difficult to sell to banks that might otherwise finance such an endeavor.

“The abatement that we are asking for is 75 percent of the taxes that we will be generating,” Koppeis said. “It gets to be a big number because it’s an expensive building.”

If the board agrees to the abatement, Koppeis will receive 75 percent of the taxes paid on the first two buildings constructed in the complex for a period of 10 years.

He said that as of right now, they don’t have the financing to do the project the way he envisions, but he hopes they’ll get it.

“We have bought the property, and we’re going to build a building,” he said.

He said the revenue generated down the road from the building complex will be “tremendous,” but it will take time to get there.

Bill Rebholz of the Southwestern Illinois Medical Group attended the board meeting as well to voice his opinion on the development and answer questions.

“The physicians will primarily be from Progressive Family Care in Columbia because they’re outgrowing their space,” Rebholz said. “This new facility will allow them to handle up to five providers. There’s an unmet need on the primary care end of things, so we want to fill that.”

Rebholz said they hope and expect that with the growth of primary care, other health care resources will land in Columbia as well.

Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said if all goes well, this will be a profitable project far into the future.

“One of the things we’ve always focused on is how projects like these will benefit the taxpayers,” he said. “That’s why we’re behind the annexation agreement on this project, because we feel that even at the 75 percent (rate), the 25 percent that we’ll get off the first building is more than we’re getting off of the property now.”

The board did not vote on whether or not to approve the abatement Koppeis is requesting, but will take this time before the next meeting to go over the pros and cons of the situation.

In other news from the meeting, the school board unanimously approved its annual district budget after hosting a public hearing before the start of Thursday’s regular meeting.

“We are doing great in all of our funds,” superintendent Gina Segobiano said during the public hearing.  “We’re going to be balancing our budget because even though we’re in the deficit in the education fund by about $170,000. All of the other funds are good, so we won’t have to file a deficit reduction plan.”

The board also reviewed where the district is at in the process of withdrawing from the Perandoe Special Education District.

Segobiano will be presenting the comprehensive plan on Oct. 9, and after that, the appeal will go to the regional board of trustees, an elected, seven-person panel.

Kelton Davis, the regional superintendent of schools and also the secretary of the regional board of trustees, informed the board of hurdles they might encounter along the way in regard to the legality of the withdrawal process and questions they might get.

The regional board meets in October, and Columbia will need a two-thirds approval from them to continue their withdrawal.

There was also a check presentation for $10,000 to the district from America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund. The Columbia school district will use the money to expand programming offered within its greenhouse and agriculture education program.

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