UTC promoters exploiting 'anxiety and fear' among workforce, legislators say

Ann Knef Apr. 21, 2010, 2:11pm

Haine (at the podium) and Hoffman (left) call the UTC project "too risky" during a press conference last month. Kern is at center.

State legislators from the Metro-East are criticizing promoters of a large-scale retail project in Glen Carbon saying their "cynical 'jobs' drumbeat" is "an attempt to exploit the anxiety and fear" of the area's suffering workforce.

State Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) and State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) co-authored an op-ed piece that says there are a host of arguments against sales tax and revenue (STAR) bond legislation, but the "only reason" the legislation ever had any support was because of the many thousands of jobs touted by developers of University Town Center (UTC).

Promoters of UTC have estimated that 12,700 construction jobs over 14 years would be created. The development group – which includes Bruce Holland and John Costello, son of Congressman Jerry Costello – made its bold jobs prediction at a press conference earlier this month, flanked by union members.

The project is dependent on public financing through legislation that would capture most of the development's retail sales taxes, which could be $58 million per year, to pay off the bonds.

Over 20 years, the total public subsidy under the proposed legislation could be as much as $1.3 billion, according to Illinois Department of Revenue figures.

Haine and Hoffman point out in their piece that even the developers' own estimates indicate the project would result in less than 500 direct jobs on an average annual basis during the construction phase.

"[I]f you scratch beneath the surface of UTC's eye-catching 'job creations' number, you see economic 'multipliers' and terms like 'indirect jobs' and 'induced jobs'," they wrote.

Opposition to the project has intensified since the Southwest Illinois Council of Mayors, consisting of more than 40 mayors from four counties, passed a resolution condemning the project.

Haine, Hoffman, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern and Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan have sided with the mayors. State Rep. Tom Holbrook (D-Belleville), who had sponsored the legislation, dropped his support of the bill last month.

The mayors had commissioned a study which showed that communities surrounding the project could lose more than $400 million in annual retail sales.

"The use of public tax funds for the purpose of acquiring property that will be owned by a private developer, the use of public funds for site development, and unprecedented use of public funds for private property development is simply unacceptable," the mayors wrote in a statement.

In spite of the opposition, UTC promoters have engaged in a publicity blitz aimed at gaining support for the legislation.

Haine and Hoffman say the proposition is "too risky" and would "suck the life out of" existing retail districts, office buildings and residential developments. They say they have urged the governor and fellow legislators to reject the current STAR bonds bill and "focus our collective attention on more appropriate means to get Illinois back to work."

"The current fiscal environment simply does not allow the state to grant lavish new incentives for a single, speculative real estate project," they wrote.

A hearing is set Thursday in Springfield on the legislation, which is attached as an amendment to a mental health bill.

A group of area mayors is planning to board a bus chartered by Kern to attend the hearing.

More News