BELLEVILLE — The City Council voted 12-4 on Monday to allow the mayor to spend $159,000 on a vacant furniture store near West Main Street and Illinois 157.
Mayor Mark Eckert said the city has been interested for years in 10610 W. Main St., formerly Loflin Furniture, as a way to address nuisance issues and stabilize the intersection, an entranceway into the city.
Some aldermen, however, spoke heatedly against the proposed property acquisition. They questioned the use of tax increment financing funds for the project, asked for an appraisal to be done and said they did not want to vote before asking residents for feedback.
"It is completely inappropriate to spend this much money on such short notice," Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult said.
Hult, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden and Ward 7 Aldermen Phil Elmore and Lillian Schneider voted "no."
The aldermen said they only learned of the deal in executive session. The council was in closed session for about 30 minutes and returned to open session with the proposal.
Eckert said he notified Ward 8 Aldermen James Musgrove and Joe Orlet, because the property is in their ward, and both aldermen were interested.
Eckert also said he could not contact the full council about the real estate negotiation without violating the Open Meetings Act.
Eckert said he was elected by the people to make such time sensitive decisions. He planned to contact realtors Monday night, following the council meeting, about the contract.
Eckert said Belleville real estate company, Coldwell Banker Brown Realtors, contacted him about the $110,000 drop in the asking price for the property. Eckert said the city walked away from the property two years ago when the cost was $269,000.
Eckert also said an appraisal was not needed because public records show what previous owners paid: In 2007, the property sold for $220,000.
Eckert said the council could decide later whether to demolish the furniture store for green space, or some other option. Demolition costs could be about $100,000, Eckert said.
The city will use tax increment financing funds from TIF No. 3 for acquisition and future work, Eckert said. He did not immediately know how much money was available in the TIF No. 3 budget.
Hayden said he would rather use the funds to hire more police officers, modernize the Police Department's computer system or open the police substation in the west end.
"We've got to give people on the west end more hope than just green space," Hayden said.
Elmore said he does not want to set a precedent that property owners can just neglect their property and the city will come along and buy undesirable space. And, green space won't generate tax revenue for the city, Elmore said.
"We have to stop the bleeding," Elmore said.
In other news:
* Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a $288,380 contract with Thiems Construction to build Bicentennial Bridge, the entrance to Bicentennial Park off 20th Street, as required by the state Department of Natural Resources. The park will open by the end of April, after the bridge is built. The project will be paid for with bond money left from the 17th Street project.
* Aldermen voted unanimously to annex 10 acres of Jaycee Park at 750 W. H St. from the village of Swansea. Belleville's Parks and Recreation Department already maintains the park. Aldermen also voted to annex a property at 217 Freedom Drive.
* Aldermen voted unanimously to transfer ownership of retired police dog, Trauma, to officer Dave Jordan, protecting the city from future liability.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.