DANVILLE – Rantoul is the first municipality outside Vermilion County to join the Vermilion County Land Bank in a still-to-be-named new regional land bank.

The Rantoul Board of Trustees voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the intergovernmental agreement Tuesday night seeking membership to the Vermilion County Land Bank.

The Vermilion County Land Bank already amended its bylaws to allow communities outside the county to join it, according to land bank executive director Pat O’Shaughnessy.

A name change still has to be decided for the regional land bank, he said, adding that it could be Central or East Central Illinois Land Bank.

“I think regional land banking is really the way to go,” O’Shaughnessy said.

More serious discussions started months ago about the Vermilion County Land Bank possibly being involved with other counties in a regional land bank.

O’Shaughnessy said the Illinois Housing Development Authority is excited about regional land banks, which can help with future funding.

Land banks are public or community-owned entities created to assist with community revitalization projects. Land banks serve as a regional economic development tool to legally acquire and hold, manage, maintain and develop abandoned or tax or bank foreclosed properties and put them back into productive use.

The Vermilion County Land Bank still hasn’t spent its $300,000 IHDA grant that will allow for demolitions of buildings and rehabilitations of homes. Rantoul also received more than $100,000.

According to Rantoul Village Administrator and former Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, Rantoul received the IHDA grant to evaluate the feasibility of a land bank in Rantoul or Champaign County.

Eisenhauer says the money was first used to hire a consultant to determine whether there is a need for a land bank, and if so, what options exist.

“That study confirmed there was a need, certainly in Rantoul, but throughout the county. The options outlined were to (A) have a Rantoul-only land bank, (B) have a Champaign County land bank, or (C) look to regionalize land banking and see if there is interest in surrounding areas to consolidate forces into one land bank,” Eisenhauer stated through an email.

He said “We studied each option and immediately eliminated option A. We then met with other Champaign County stakeholders, and while some are still interested in the concept, did not want to ‘step out’ first on the issue. That is when we went to Vermilion County Land Bank to see if they would be willing to open their membership to entities outside of the county so we could join.

“At the same time, we really started promoting the idea of a regional land bank which would include all of Vermilion and Champaign county entities that wished to participate. That’s when we approached Champaign County Board to open the discussion of them agreeing to partner so at least the unincorporated areas could take advantage while also encouraging other Champaign County communities to partner,” according to Eisenhauer.

While the Rantoul village board voted to join with the Vermilion County Land Bank, Champaign County will continue to discuss their involvement and membership which may see a vote in the next 60 days, he said.

Eisenhauer too said “regionalization is what IHDA is promoting and what I think makes the most sense for all of us. It also allows us to partner in seeking grants and other funding opportunities so we can expand the work already being done.”

O’Shaughnessy said Urbana has decided not to participate at this time.

He said the regional land bank will need a full-time director.

“It needs a dedicated funding source,” he also said, adding that land banks in other states receive state funding such as 1 percent of delinquent taxes before properties go to sale.

Communities could be asked to contribute funding in the future, he said.

O’Shaughnessy said what a regional land bank can do is bring the University of Illinois and communities and other resources together, such as internships and a talent supply, and cities working together toward goals.

He said other counties could be involved, such as Edgar, Coles and Iroquois.

“I just think it needs to be that size,” he said about multiple counties and cities getting along and working together.

The South Suburban Land Bank and Northern Illinois Land Bank, for example, each include several counties.

O’Shaughnessy said with just Rantoul's and Vermilion County's IHDA grants, having about half a million dollars is good seed money. He also said the money Vermilion County received will be spent in Vermilion County. There also will be veto power for projects and spending on the board, he said.

A renewal grant in August would be written as the new entity.

“It will help us,” O’Shaughnessy again said about a regional land bank.

The Vermilion County Land Bank slowly continues to demolish some buildings and market Danville lots.

Current activities include demolition of a dilapidated house in Catlin and one coming up in Georgetown, in addition to the land bank taking title of several properties for a client officials aren't naming.

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