St. Louis homeless advocate Rev. Larry Rice on Monday submitted petitions to let voters decide whether the former downtown Belleville YMCA building should be turned into a homeless shelter.
Rice submitted 790 signatures -- more than double the 300 needed -- to the Circuit Clerk's office in effort to get a binding referendum on the ballot. It would require the city to sell the old YMCA, previously known as Turner Hall, to Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center for $1 if it is successful.
If the petitions are not challenged, the referendum would be on the April 9 municipal election. The deadline to challenge the petitions is 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14.
"A lot of people support what we're trying to do," Rice said. "They want to see that building not go to waste. It belongs to the people and it should be used to benefit the people."
St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney told Rice when the homeless advocate came to take out petitions Nov. 16 that he doesn't believe a private citizen can put a binding referendum on the ballot to force the city to sell property. Delaney told Rice he could, however, put a non-binding referendum on the ballot.
Rice said his attorneys told him they believe the binding referendum is legal.
"I hope it doesn't come to that," Rice said. "But if we have to go to court it's something that will be done."
Mayor Mark Eckert said Monday that he's opposed to the homeless shelter plans for the old YMCA. located at 15 N. First Street.
"I think that's something that would be unfair to the business owners in the area," Eckert said.
Instead, Eckert said he is working with area leaders to try to attack the homelessness issue on a regional level. He said he has invited Rice to attend meetings on the subject, but Rice has refused.
St. Louis-based New Life Evangelistic Center provides services to the poor. But Rice said the organization has its hands full with needy people on the Missouri and that the metro-east needs to be more responsible for its homeless people. He said he would rather push ahead on his own than get bogged down in meetings.
The Turner Hall building has been vacant since 2006 when the YMCA moved to a new building on South Illinois Street. It remains in limbo with a group of local residents in favor of saving the red brick and limestone building constructed in 1923-24.
According to city leaders, it would cost a minimum of about $50,000 to stabilize the building, which has a leaky roof, and it could cost $2 million or more to restore the site. It is estimated it would cost $500,000 to tear the building down.
Rice said he's confident he could restore the building using volunteer labor for about the same price as it would cost to demolish the structure. He said he believes he could raise the money through donations.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.