New development, revitalization and booming growth are making over the city.
In recent years, the City of Washington has experienced strong residential growth and increased interest in commercial development. Residential development has been a core strength for many years. As of the 2010 Census, the city’s population was 15,134, an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2000. Over 1,500 new residential building permits have been issued within the last decade, with a construction value of over $300 million. Several factors have contributed to this growth, including:
- Convenient proximity to central Illinois employers
- The quality of life enjoyed by residents, particularly due to amenities like Five Points Washington, quality schools, and various parks and trails
- An abundance of developable land
- Enthusiastic local builders and developers who are willing to invest private capital to accommodate the demands of an expanding housing market.
Much of the residential growth in Washington has been single-family structures and duplexes. However, within the last five years, two assisted living facilities have opened, and the city continues to see interest from developers looking at further construction. This attempts to meet the needs of a growing elderly population and those with special health needs.
As the population has risen, Washington has also seen more interest from retailers and commercial developers. Capturing more sales tax revenue is vital in order to complement the residential growth. Nearly one million square feet of new commercial space have been constructed since 2000. The city has been planning for and encouraging future commercial development by continuing to construct the necessary infrastructure near Illinois Route 8, US Route 24, McCluggage Road and Cummings Lane. Much of this area is development-ready.
The most prominent recent change to the city’s landscape has been the revitalization of Sunnyland Plaza. The current owner purchased the property about two years ago and has dramatically enhanced its appearance. These improvements include demolition of a portion of the existing building in order to create two separate buildings that are more usable and flexible than the former space. Additionally, the building façade was replaced, a portion of the parking lot was repaved, and new landscaping was installed. The response from potential tenants has been very encouraging, and leases have been signed for many of the available spaces.
The changes occurring at Sunnyland Plaza are not the only signs of progress on the west side of Washington. Summit Drive was extended north in 2011 to connect with Centennial Drive. This is an important north-south roadway that will provide better access between Route 8 and US 24. The last phase of the widening and reconstruction of Route 8 started this spring and will last through November 2013. This project will widen the last part of Route 8 between Summit and Legion Road from two to five lanes and includes stormwater drainage improvements and pedestrian accommodations on both sides of the road. The city expects to see an increased demand for commercial development as a result of the infrastructure advancements.
Elsewhere, the Uftring auto dealership has started a major renovation of its business on Washington Road. The Methodist Medical Group will be opening a new practice at the corner of Cruger Road and Cummings Lane near the beginning of 2013. ALDI will soon start construction on a new store at the intersection of McCluggage Road and Freedom Parkway that will tentatively open in April 2013.
Washington is very proud of its historic downtown square. A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district has allowed for many of its older buildings to be preserved through the efforts of the business owners. This program has been essential for several projects that would have otherwise been uneconomical and has helped produce an appealing shopping environment for residents and visitors with a number of unique stores. The term of the city’s TIF district was extended through 2021 after gaining the support of the local taxing bodies. Recent businesses that have utilized TIF assistance for interior and/or exterior rehabilitations include Holland’s Caramelcorn, LeFleur, Riggsville and Skill Sprout. Beautification and streetscape projects have also helped to enhance the shopping experience on the square. iBi
Jon Oliphant is the planning and development director for the City of Washington.