Work progressing on turning Meredith Home into an urban park

News-DemocratJune 3, 2011 

— Don't expect to see a wrecking ball near the Meredith Memorial Home on the Public Square any time soon.

Technical details -- a legal promise that it'll remain a park and the raising of $450,000 to tear it down -- are still underway in the effort to turn it into a memorial park for the late daughter of Bruce Cook, an attorney and influential Belleville Democrat.

Cook's daughter, Susannah Marison, died at the age of 36 early last year from a brain tumor. Cook and his wife, Sandra Cook, in October paid off the city's $492,101 loan for the property in exchange for the promise that the land would be turned into an urban park in their daughter's name.

Cook said he's likely to blame for the holdup on moving ahead. He still needs to get a restrictive covenant placed on the land. That'll ensure that it can only be a park, and he thinks that's what's needed to bring forward large donors. He thinks that with that, they'll be more willing to give money toward the project, and that the city won't later change its use to something for which they would not have contributed funding.

City leaders wanted to wait until after Art on the Square to do any demolition, but Cook said he's been putting it off, anyway -- working on the project forces him to think about his daughter, and that's just too emotionally difficult for him some days, he said.

The City Council last year approved purchasing the property from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, which was selling it because it was losing money operating the Meredith Home, which provided housing for seniors. City leaders said they didn't plan to hang on to it, but rather wanted a hand in determining its future.

Meanwhile, the city has taken out the gas meter at the building, according to Mayor Mark Eckert. The city will shut off the water after the Wine, Dine and Jazz festival June 10-11. The electricity will stay on for safety reasons.

Eckert said the building's cost to the city has been "pretty minimal." It is classified as a nonprofit, so the city doesn't pay property tax on the structure or land. It's been used as a headquarters for Art on the Square, and also for some training for firefighters.

Eckert sees the project moving forward now that Art on the Square has ended for the year.

"We wanted to make sure we didn't have a hole there for that," he said.

Contact reporter Laura Girresch at or 239-2507.

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