The city of Collinsville has spent $2.3 million in public money to help restore a home that holds a significant piece of the town’s history and improve the entryway to the city where the house is located.
Since 2006, the City Council has approved using $270,534 in tax increment financing funds toward renovating the Daniel Dove Collins House, and $2.1 million on redesigning the entrance to the Main Street business district, for a total of $2.3 million. Work included purchasing and razing two buildings that Mayor John Miller says were unattractive and neglected, and moving the Collins House to the corner where they stood.
During the same period, the city’s non-profit Historic Preservation Commission has raised $144,039 in grants and donations for the restoration of the Collins House, according to records provided by the city. Leah Joyce, who is the city’s TIF director and interim economic development director, said the commission has been raising money longer than the city has been involved in the project, but an overall total was not available.
The structure, located at 621 W. Main St., was home to the city’s first village president, or mayor, and the place where the first council meetings were held.
Built by D.D. Collins around 1845, the home is being converted into a museum complete with furnishings from the 1840s. But it’s taken nearly two decades to get there. And the city isn’t finished paying yet. Because it owns the 170-year-old home — received through a donation — it will continue to be responsible for “basic maintenance,” such as a utility cost, according to Joyce.
“It’s so little,” she said of the city’s future financial obligation. Miller also said that any profits the city brings in from future events at the home might be used toward that cost.
But resident Rob Dorman says he thinks the city’s involvement in financing the project should have been more limited from the start.
“I think it’s been a black hole for a long time with no end in sight,” he said.
I think it’s been a black hole for a long time with no end in sight.
Resident Rob Dorman on the cost of renovating the D.D. Collins House
Miller disagreed, saying the museum will be good for tourism. “People will “take pride in it,” he said. “Not too many communities can say they have the house that was built by the city’s first mayor.”
Bill Iseminger, chairman of the historic commission, said he thinks people will find that the cost to restore the home was worth it. There has been nothing like it — a home-turned-museum — in Collinsville to date, he said.
“This would be the first and only one thus far,” Iseminger said. “I think they’ll see it was money well spent. ... It costs more to restore an old house than to build a new one sometimes.”
Not surprisingly, public opinion has been mixed, Iseminger said.
“We’ve had some people really glad to see it happening after all these years,” he said, and on the other hand “... there’s always an element of citizenry that wonders why we’re spending money on old things.”
The cost so far
Some residents have spoken out against the use of TIF money on the Collins House when the subject has come up at City Council meetings.
One is Dorman, a regular attendee of council meetings. He often addresses council members about the use of TIF funds. He calls the Collins House project “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The city’s plan goes beyond restoring the home. Officials hope that adding some “glitz and glitter,” like a welcome sign and a community park, around the historic structure will bring new businesses and residential development to the area, according to Miller.
Most of city’s contribution to the project has been related to that plan for the area — called the garden district — that includes, among other costs, money used:
▪ To purchase the Martha Manning Warehouse and Main Square Apartments, 701 and 703 W. Main St., that bordered the Collins House ($1.09 million)
▪ To relocate the tenants of both buildings, including one through eminent domain ($207,404.76).
▪ To abate the buildings’ asbestos and demolish the buildings ($239,985.75).
▪ To move the Collins House about 200 feet to the corner of Main and Combs streets ($126,849.19).
▪ To construct Collins Park ($368,778.68).
Miller said the city got rid of an “eyesore” when it demolished the old warehouse. And the apartments that were torn down “were not being maintained.”
“There was a lot of crime and some bad things that went on there (at the apartments),” Miller said. “It wasn’t a good situation.”
It costs more to restore an old house than to build a new one sometimes.
Bill Iseminger, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission
The city wants to make the downtown area “a livable space again,” according to Miller, with loft or luxury apartments above retail shops built near the Collins House, along with the community park that’s under construction.
Dorman questions the need for the redesigned area, including a new sign. “You already know you’re in Collinsville,” in that area, he said.
Miller said the city is working to “re-establish” the Main Street business district with the investment.
“Anytime we can make the city more pleasant to look at, more livable, more entertaining, bring back some history that is a part of our community,” he said, “that’s what we want to improve upon.”
Joyce, who is the liaison between the historic commission and the city, said the city likely began contributing TIF money to the Collins House as a result of a combination of things, including continued requests from commission members and how council members felt about the project at the time the decisions were made.
“It might also be due to the fact that Main Street has seen such significant improvements in the past decade that it seemed like an appropriate time to clean up the entrance to the (business district). ... Another part is the TIF district (in which the Collins House is located) expires in 2021,” Joyce said, so completing a big project in the district before the expiration would make sense.
Dorman thinks the TIF money could have been “better suited elsewhere.” He says the council should have either used the money for something else or allowed the TIF district to expire.
When a TIF district expires, surplus tax revenues go back into the general funds of the city and other overlapping governments, including the local school district.
The costs to come
Going forward, the city will be responsible for things like the Collins House’s monthly electricity bills, Joyce said. Bills from Ameren Illinois average about $36 per month for the home, according to the last four bills, or about $430 per year.
Joyce said the home’s water bills will be paid for with money transferred from the fund that Collins House expenses are paid from to the city’s enterprise fund.
The city’s streets department will also continue to mow the lawn like it does at other city-owned facilities.
A nonprofit group called Friends of the D.D. Collins House was formed to maintain the landscaping and care for gardens and native plants — like fruit trees that could have grown at the property in D.D.’s time — and to organize any educational programs, tours or events in the future. Miller said if there’s any profit from tours or events, the money will go back into the home.
Anyone interested in joining the Friends of the D.D. Collins House should contact Lavadna Hines at 618-420-0288. The membership costs include $20 for an individual membership; $35 for a family membership, and $50 for a sponsor.
The Collins House will continue to show up in city budgets, but only in its own fund. The Collins House Fund consists of the donations and grant money received to be used for the home. The 2016 and 2017 budgets, for example, include money in the fund earmarked for furniture, which Joyce said came from a grant.
Opening this spring
The last time the City Council approved spending TIF money on the Collins House it was for construction of Collins Park and completion of the renovations inside the home, which Iseminger said are largely for the four rooms on the first floor that will be for public use.
But the Collins House isn’t open to the public yet. Iseminger said there are “still lots of little details” left to complete the restoration, like adding walkways and a picket fence out front, planting herb and vegetable gardens and repairing some plaster and insulation inside. And because of heavy rainfall in December, Iseminger said Collins Park was a pile of mud. Snowfall in the metro-east hasn’t helped.
About $125,000 in renovation work was still outstanding as of Jan. 13.
“I imagine we would have some kind of formal opening sometime in the spring when the weather’s nicer,” he said. An exact date has not been set.
Ideas are still being thrown around for involving the community and making sure the initial interest and traffic doesn’t fizzle out completely, Iseminger said.
Working with schools to arrange educational tours and presentations is one thought. Another is joining in with seasonal events that are already going on in the city, like holiday house tours, to get people in the door. There may even be events like weddings at the Collins House in the future, Iseminger said.
Dorman said he doesn’t think the Collins House will draw people downtown when it opens; Iseminger has high hopes that it will.
“We’re anticipating a positive response,” Iseminger said.
Comparison in spending
The city provided numbers for expenditures from the last 10 years.
Taxpayer dollars spent on Collins House renovation:
- 2011: $1,700
- 2012: $3,132.10
- 2012: $3,120
- 2012: $768
- 2012: $61,029
- 2013: $285
- 2015: $1,229.74
- 2015: $1,844.61
- 2015: $1,229.74
- 2015: $922.31
- 2015: $195,274
Taxpayer dollars spent on garden district project:
- 2009: $3,572
- 2011: $7,150
- 2012: $1,203,419.17
- 2013: $26,595.30
- 2014: $60,825
- 2015: $767,258.23
City’s total contribution: $2,339,353
Donations and grants for Collins House renovation:
- 2006: $10,512.74
- 2007: $7,137.29
- 2008: $56,353.48
- 2009: $8.94
- 2010: $309.53
- 2011: $14,922.20
- 2012: $54,049.08
- 2013: $9.71
- 2014: $6.36
- 2015: $730.60
Source: Collinsville Finance Department