UI expansion shrinks Urbana

By Jonathan Jacobson

For the last 20 years, the University has been encroaching on the city of Urbana’s land, but it took until Tuesday night’s city council meeting to understand the impact the University’s growth has on their economy.

The University’s growth has come at a cost to Urbana – a cost that Bruce Walden, the Chief Administrative Officer of the city, estimates to be in the millions.

The problem lies in the physical expansion of the University. The land that it accumulates is tax exempt, so Urbana is unable to reap the tax benefits that would normally come from the use of such property. The lack of tax income from these areas has increased pressure on the remaining tax base. The University’s use of this land also prevents Urbana’s growth.

But, so far, Urbana has been unable to address the issue.

“They have had to ‘take one for the team,'” Walden said.

Walden presented a development goal of $150 million; saying that it would not be unfair considering how much Urbana has lost and will continue to lose in tax revenues. $150 million is neccessary to make up for total tax losses from the past 20 years, over the next 20 years, including future annual losses.

The University has been in “development mode” for the last few years, expanding into different sections of Urbana. A surprised council viewed a series of slides showing vast amounts of expansion that have occurred in Urbana. Walden estimated, that by 2010, the total tax loss would be about $8.2 million.

“It’s really stark, especially when you see the takeover over such a short time,” said Council Member Danielle Chynoweth (Ward 2).

The city has tried to solve the problem in various ways, though almost all have failed. The city was unable to receive money either voluntarily or with legislation from the University for the lost tax base. Also, a potential research park was considered, though eventually dropped.

Ideas for solutions, though, were ample.

“There is an easy way to solve the problem that is of mutual benefit,” Walden said.

Developing areas like Pomology and Orchard Downs for both residential and commercial purposes would be the cornerstone of the solution.

“Our futures are inextricably linked,” said Council Member Brandon Bowersox (Ward 4) about the relationship between Urbana and the University.

Noting the change in leadership at the University, Mayor Laurel Prussing said, “now there are channels of communication and let’s try to use them.”

“I think we’re ready to talk,” she added.