A state lawmaker has proposed a plan to use state funds to build a new higher education center in downtown Springfield.
State Senator Andy Manar (D, Bunker Hill) introduced legislation on Wednesday that calls for $50 million to build a campus and public affairs center. The proposed building would sit within a mile of Southern Illinois University's existing medical school.
Though there’s been much talk of a potential university presence in Springfield’s downtown, Manar said the time for talk has passed.
“The last time we had a capital bill was a decade ago," he vented. "I’m not gonna wait a decade for us to have the conversation about investment in a major facility in downtown Springfield.”
State lawmakers have already begun negotiating a capital bill that could potentially include money for the new site.
Manar heads up one of the state Senate's budget committees responsible for approving such a plan.
A university presence, he said, could offer a boon for Springfield’s downtown businesses.
“Downtowns that are thriving are, clearly, downtowns that have university presence. There’s all kinds of benefits that come from having a research institution or students that are in public affairs programming.”
In a news release, Manar called the vacant YWCA block across from the governor’s mansion “a perfect location” for the building. He said SIU had been interested in money for a satellite law school campus in Springfield’s downtown as early as last spring.
A downtown business group welcomed the plan. "We thank Senator Manar for his leadership to not only help grow SIU, but to recognize that downtown Springfield is the very best place to build new ventures connecting government, academia and the creative economy," said Lisa Clemmons Stott, Downtown Springfield Incorporated Executive Director.
Though it has also talked about a downtown presence, Manar said the U of I Springfield has not yet presented a formal plan for expanding. Such a plan, he said, would be welcome.