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Condemnation may be instore for Civic Park sites

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The city of Springfield may have to condemn property that will become Civic Park. Though the city hopes to negotiate a price with each of the four businesses that occupy the land to be developed as phase I of Civic Park, the City Council will hold a first reading Sept. 8 on a bill to condemn the property in case no agreement can be reached, said City Manager Tom Finnie.

Condemning the property sets up a process whereby a panel of "three disinterested commissioners" will determine the value of the property, according to the council bill. The bill is being proposed to keep the city on schedule for the development of the park, Finnie said.

The five businesses that are located in the area and are in negotiations with the city include DaBryan Coach Builders, Tri-States/Whitely, Greyhound Bus,

Thompson Pontiac GMC Cadillac, and a warehouse owned by Sears.

Construction on the park is set to begin in the fall of 1999. In order to give the property owners plenty of time to relocate, Finnie said the negotiations on the prices the city will pay to each of the property owners have to be complete in the next few months.

"We want to give these people plenty of time to relocate," Finnie said.

He also said that he does not expect to have to use the condemnation process, but believes that an agreement about price can be reached with each of the parties.

"Right now, it's not an issue of these people not being willing to relocate. They're willing to relocate, but we are still negotiating on a price," Finnie said.

The bill specifies that the city will clear the property, but that the current property owners may remove at their own cost all personal property, fixtures and buildings.

So far, the negotiations have not yielded any agreement on prices for each of the properties, Finnie said. Initially, each business owner acquired an appraisal, and the city acquired an appraisal for each property, and negotiations began there, Finnie said.

The city plans to break ground for the park during fall 1999, and it is expected to be complete by 2001, Finnie said. In February, an increase in the hotel-motel tax in Springfield was passed by voters in order to fund the Civic Park and other tourism-related projects in the city.

One property owner, Lynn Thompson, who is president of Thompson Pontiac GMC Cadillac, said he expected the negotiations to conclude sooner than they apparently will. He added that he thought the negotiations would wind up with condemnation proceedings.

"It appears we aren't going to be able to reach an agreement at this point. We've made our offer, and we're actually

asking for less than we're entitled to,

but we're not getting any agreement,"

Thompson said.

Though Thompson agrees it will be hard to leave the downtown site the company has occupied since 1955, he said the Civic Park development will be a great benefit for downtown.

"In every situation, there are winners and losers, and it looks like we're going to be the losers this time," Thompson said.

Thompson has a site selected and under contract that will be a new home for the car dealership. That 10-acre site, on Independence, will take the place of both of the company's current sites: the site on St. Louis Street and the dealership on South Campbell.

The Thompson family has owned the car dealership and service center since 1919; Thompson's grandfather started the company. The first location for the company was at 424 St. Louis.

"We've been within three blocks of this location for 79 years. It's going to be hard to say good-bye to this area," Thompson said.

Thompson said the procedure for the city to acquire the property has been fine, but that he remains skeptical about reaching an agreement on price. If the condemnation process begins, and the company objects to what the panel of three determines to be a fair price, the process can be taken to a jury trial, Thompson said.[[In-content Ad]]

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