Did you know that the Amtrak Station in downtown Centralia is the point of departure and arrival for over 20,000 riders every year?Amtrak is having it’s best year ever, with over 25 million riders nationwide in fiscal year 2007.Illinois is a big part of that.The Amtrak website states “Huge gains are tied to increased frequencies in Illinois, with the three routes between Chicago and downstate Illinois showing large increases.”Ridership for the Chicago to Carbondale corridor is up 67% with the addition of a third train on this route in late 2006.
Amtrak trains brought over 250,000 people through Centralia in 2007, and more of them got on and off the train here than ever.The City of Centralia has recognized that this is an important gateway to our community, and an image that those passengers will associate with our community.The City worked with the Centralia Foundation, who owns this land, to asphalt the long-term parking area for the Amtrak Station, as well as the overflow parking for the Recreation Complex.After this asphalt work was completed, the City had a significant amount of new landscaping installed.The Chamber of Commerce Image Committee helped select the winning design, which included the placement of new flag poles and benches on the corner of Broadway & Oak.This improved the look of the downtown not only for those of us driving by on Broadway, but especially for those riding the train.
The City of Centralia and the Chamber of Commerce Image Committee are currently working on further plans to improve the look of other rail crossings in Centralia, especially the 5th street crossing just south of Downtown.
The Fall schedule has been released for the Centralia Pittenger Memorial Band Shell. City staff works hard to provide entertainment throughout the year at the Band Shell. Movies are shown in the spring and fall, and concerts and other events are held whenever possible. We have had the High School Band, a local Battle of the Bands, and many movies, projected right up on the inside of the shell. The best part about it, is that the events are all FREE!
We have been asked "Why don't you show movies in the summer?" Simply because the movie cannot begin until it gets dark enough, and if the movie can't start until past 9:00, it will not finish until past 11:00. Also, it is much easier to advertise to our primary audience - families - when school is in session, and we can send flyers home with the kids.
As we plan for future events at the Band Shell, TELL US WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE? Is there a movie you want us to show? A local group you want us to invite to perform?
The Mayor, City Manger and other department heads spent last Saturday morning volunteering at the Centralia Community Recycling Center. Volunteers at the center help unload paper, glass, plastic and cardboard recyclables from the vehicles of the center patrons, and sorting these into separate containers.
The Centralia community Recycling Center is operated by Keep Centralia Beautiful, which sells these bulk recyclables to pay for the operation of the center, including one full-time and two part-time employees. Keep Centralia Beautiful (also known as Clean & Green) also organizes two annual city-wide cleanups in the fall and spring and works tirelessly to teach children and the community to plant trees, prevent littering, and to recycle.
The Communty Recycling Center is open to receive donations Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Saturday mornings. to find out how your family or community group can help, call Keep Centralia Beautiful Coordinator Bev Virobik at 532-8430.
Senator Richard Durbin (D. Illinois) visited Centralia on Thursday, August 7 and met with local officials to discuss issues with Amtrak. In attendance were Mayor Leonard Ferguson (Salem), Mayor Mary Jane Chesney (Mt. Vernon), Mayor Rebecca Ault (Centralia), Mayor Ken Buchanan (Central City), Mike Young (Centralia Township), Chamber officials, Kaskaskia College, and Representative Kurt Granberg.
Community leaders were very appreciative of Senator Durbin's recent efforts to work with Amtrak and the City of Chicago to find a compromise for Amtrak service into the City of Chicago. Senator Durbin has also workied with State officials to preserve the State subsidy to Amtrak which has allowed service to continue to Centralia. Ridership has continued to grow with rising fuel prices and the City feels this is a valuable asset that has now been protected.
Fuelvend Express held a grand opening and ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon before officially opening for business. Fuelvend Express is located at the corner of Poplar and McCord and is owned and operated by Mike and Joe Cooksey. According to the Morning Sentinel, Mike Cooksey stated, "The city was extremely helpful in its willingness to get things done. There are more resources available in the city than what people think." Fuelvend Express utilized the City's facade program to purchase their front awning. Fuelvend Express will be a great addition to the community.
On July 14, 2008 Hawkins, Inc. (Nasdaq: HWKN) announced the purchase of a 77,000 square foot facility on 10 acres in Centralia. The facility will be primarily used for expansion of the Company’s lactate and other food ingredient manufacturing capacity within its Industrial Group, with the Water Treatment Group using the location as a branch office for its operations as it expands its geographic coverage. It is expected that the facility will be fully operational in the summer of 2009. Chief Executive Officer, John R. Hawkins, commented, "We have enjoyed significant growth in the volumes of our manufactured specialty food products. As we searched for new capacity and strived to be closer to our raw material suppliers and customers for this product line, we are pleased to have found this existing structure in this strategic location. This acquisition will ultimately allow us to free up capacity at our Minneapolis site for other business growth opportunities." John Sevenich, Vice President-Industrial Group, added, "The facility has everything we need, including adequate rail car siding capacity, which is critical to keeping our supply transportation costs down. We intend to have a state-of-the art specialty chemical manufacturing facility when we are finished with the build-out of this site." Hawkins, Inc. provides a full range of bulk industrial products complemented with the technical competence and innovation to formulate and blend specialty chemicals. The Company sells and services related products and equipment to safely dispense chemicals in highly controlled environments. Hawkins serves customers in a wide range of industries, including chemical processing, electronics, energy, environmental services, food processing, metal finishing, pharmaceutical, medical devices, pulp and paper, and water treatment. Hawkins is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Company operates 18 facilities in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, South and North Dakota and Wisconsin and services customers in Upper Michigan and Wyoming as well. Mayor Rebecca Ault recently toured the headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota and welcomed Hawkins, Inc. to Centralia. "We are appreciative of the quality employment they will bring to our area and look forward to a strong relationship between the company and the community."
The City of Centralia recently mailed its third annual citizen survey. This survey asks Centralians to help shape the future of the City by completing and returning the survey by August 8, 2008. The survey contains questions regarding City services, taxes, economic development, and spending priorities. Answers to this survey are anonymous and participation is voluntary, although strongly encouraged as the City Council and administration relies on the survey results to determine how best to allocate your tax dollars and to set priorities. In response to the previous two surveys the City has allocated an unprecedented amount of money toward road and sidewalk improvements, infrastructure upgrades and economic development. The survey takes approximately 8-10 minutes to complete, and can be returned to City Hall through the mail or dropped off at the Utilities drop-box located on Poplar Street; or to the Clerk’s office at City Hall. The survey may also be downloaded from the City’s website at www.cityofcentralia.org.
The City has been begun placing its new "Progress in Progress" signs around town. The first few signs have been placed at the location of the CDAP rehabiliation grant homes located near the intersection of 10th and Maple. New signs will be posted as work commences on street improvements and at other sites around the City.
The affordable housing seminar on Thursday, June 5 was a great success for all those who attended. Susan Hosfield, chairman of the Centralia Area Housing Task Force, gave a brief history of the mortgage industry and how it developed into the current mortgage crisis. She also explained which parts of the country were more affected than others and what the outcome has been.
The class then focused on ways to qualify for home financing, including information about credit scores and the different financing programs. Later, Habitat for Humanity, BCMW and City incentives were also discussed.
Many questions were asked about the CDAP Housing programs. The class was encouraged to fill out CDAP surveys the next time they are sent out by the City. The participants were very impressed with the before and after pictures of the completed CDAP houses.
Results from the 2007 Citizen Survey indicated that 60% of Centralians feel that the City could do a better job communicating with citizens about City issues, decisions and services. Since these results were published, City staff has been very proactive in getting out the word to its citizens by creating blogs and forums on our revamped website, and even a cable channel! However, to be sure that we are reaching as many citizens as we possibly can City staff has been hard at work creating the first citizen newsletter "The Centralian". Newsletters were mailed to all City residents on May 29, 2008. If you did not receive a copy of the newsletter you may pick one up at City Hall or read it online.
The City of Centralia, in partnership with Charter Communications, began airing local television content on cable channel 99 in August 2007. Channel 99 features City Council meetings, local government activities and community announcements. The purpose of Channel 99 is to inform and involve the citizens of Centralia concerning the issues facing the City as well as to be the number one source for accurate information regarding local government operations.
Cable Channel 99 is on a loop that varies in length depending on the availability of content. Typically this is a four to five hour loop. New content is added to the channel weekly. Future programming on channel 99 will include high school sporting events, 360 degree tours of the City, and programming from Kaskaskia College. For a program guide please visit the City’s web site at www.cityofcentralia.org.
The City is very excited about this channel, and hopes that all residents with access to Charter Cable will be able to utilize it as a tool to stay abreast of important issues facing the City. The channel is available to all cable television subscribers within the City of Centralia at no additional charge.
For citizens of Centralia that do not subscribe to Charter Cable, Channel 99 Online is now available for viewing on the City’s website at www.cityofcentralia.org. All content is available On-Demand, meaning there is no waiting for your program to begin. Channel 99 Online also contains an archive of past City Council meetings and other video footage that previously aired on Cable Channel 99.
The City of Centralia is excited to announce a partnership with Kaskaskia College to produce fresh new content for Channel 99. Kaskaskia College will soon commence a new media-related course offering, and students of this course will also develop content for Channel 99. Together we will strive to produce content that is accurate and relevant to Centralia
The City of Centralia has had some success recently with obtaining funding for Housing Rehabilitation. The City was awarded approximately $300,000 in 2006 and a similar amount was just announced for 2008, through the Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) with the State of Illinois. Each application is specific to one neighborhood only, and residents to be benefitted are pre-qualified during the application. Qualifying homes must have a household income of no more than 80% of the median income for Marion County and they must own their home. In selecting a target area, Community Development staff surveyed the entire community then used these results to select an area where most of the neighborhood was low-income, home ownership was high, and repairs were needed to the homes. The area that was funded in 2006 was the 900 and 1000 blocks of South Maple (just south of Calumet). Seven homes in the area have received assistance. The typical amount of investment has been around $40,000 per house. The primary goal of the work is to the home into compliance with all building maintenance codes. This may include new roofing, windows, siding, plumbing (both feed lines and drain lines), electrical wiring, water heaters, furnace, flooring, and even kitchen cabinets. The rehabilitation of the neighborhood also included the demolition of several homes to improve the conditions of blight in the neighborhood. The City of Centralia submitted the 2008 grant in November of 2007 and just received word this April that the application was funded. The target area for this grant is the 400-600 blocks of North Locust. Approximately eight homes in the are expected to be rehabilitated. Once again, only those residents who qualify as low-income homeowners will be assisted. If more than eight applications are received, they will be ranked according to various criteria. These will include income, the number of people in the home, and the presence of any elderly or disabled residents in the home. The City of Centralia also intends to demolish several dilapidated homes in the target area.
Volunteers from the Center for Economic Progress will be in Centralia to prepare free Economic Stimulus Tax returns on Tuesday May 27. Free preparation of returns will be offered to seniors and persons with disabilities who received Social Security (SSA), Railroad Retirement or Veterans Benefits during 2007. Filing the Economic Stimulus Payment tax return will qualify recipients for the advance $300 payment from the federal government.
The free service will be conducted in the City Council chambers at Centralia City Hall from 12:00pm-3:00pm on a first-come, first-served basis. Those wishing to be served should bring statements that detail the amount of their Social Security, Railroad Retirement or Veterans Benefits.
For questions regarding eligibility and for further information, please contact the Joe Hinton, Community Relations Specialist, Center for Economic Progress at 312-252-0280 ext 265.
The College Avenue Sanitary Sewer Rehabilitation project is nearing completion! In February 2006, the City of Centralia was awarded a $315,870 Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) Public Facilities and Design Engineering grant for the rehabilitation of sanitary sewer and pump station along College Avenue. The project involves the replacement of the Sanitary Sewer Main from Rexford to Monroe Street and the existing lift station at College and Johnson. Video inspection showed the existing Sanitary Sewer Main was in need of complete replacement and plagued by grease deposits. There were also issues with the slope of the existing main. Construction began April 7, 2008 and will be completed by July 9, 2008. The City’s portion of this project was 25% of the project cost ($105,290), which was budgeted for in the Sewer Fund. The total cost of this project was $421,160.
The City of Centralia is considering the creation of a downtown wireless hot spot or wireless cloud that would be available to our patrons. This hot spot would allow anybody with a laptop to immediately connect to the Internet from anywhere in the downtown. Such a feature would especially benefit travelers from out town staying in downtown hotels and eating in downtown restaurants. The initial screen that an Internet user would see would be a portal advertising some of the major attractions in the City and also directing the user to nearby businesses. Then, for a small fee the user could surf the net for a specified amount of time. The hot spot would be paid for user fees as well as by selling advertising space on the portal.