Historic Meredith Home building cost Belleville a 'minimal' $33K, Eckert says

News-DemocratJuly 4, 2011 

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert.

TIM VIZER/BND

— Mayor Mark Eckert has used the word "minimal" to describe the cost to the city of the vacant Meredith Memorial Home.

A public records request showed that amount to be about $33,600 over the past two years.

That includes utility bills -- though most utilities have been gradually turned off since the purchase, appraisal before the city bought the building, and interest before the $492,101 loan was paid off by Bruce Cook, an attorney and prominent Belleville Democrat, and his wife Sandra. They want to turn the property into an urban park in their late daughter's name.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult thinks $33,600 is too much and that Eckert wasn't keeping city leaders abreast of the costs. She was just elected to office in April.

"I think his definition of minimal does not meet the standards of most of the citizens of Belleville," she said.

But Eckert said the building hasn't gone unused; the fire and police departments have trained there, and it has served as headquarters for artists at Art on the Square.

Plus, Eckert said, it was important for the city to take control over what happens at the property at such a visual, important place as the Public Square.

"What we did at the Meredith Home, I firmly believe, was the right thing," Eckert said.

The total spent makes up just 3 percent of the city's $105 million budget. Details -- a legal promise that it'll remain a park and the raising of $450,000 to tear it down -- are still under way in the effort to turn it into the memorial park. The Cooks' daughter, Susannah Marison, died at the age of 36 last year from a brain tumor. They said they had been looking for something to do as a memorial to her, so they jumped on the opportunity to create a park.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Dorothy Meyer said that as part of a larger picture, $33,600 really isn't much money, considering how the building has already been used and that the city now doesn't have to worry about something unfavorable being built there.

"I'm of the mind that it was so important for us to have control of what goes in that building, for what happens in that section of the quadrant," she said.

Contact reporter Laura Girresch at lgirresch@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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