BELLEVILLE — The city will pay about $35,000 more than the fair market value for the closed Loflin furniture store at West Main Street and Illinois 157.
Mayor Mark Eckert said he stands by the city's decision to pay $159,000 for three parcels at 10610 W. Main St. without getting an appraisal as requested by some aldermen.
The St. Clair County Assessor's Office reports the fair market value for the property at $123,858.
"It's what we felt was worth it to the city," Eckert said. "You have to look at opportunities on a case-by-case basis. The entranceway to west Belleville changes the circumstances of why we should get involved."
Eckert said he told the City Council in a closed session during Monday's meeting that the city's intent would be to demolish the building and turn the area into green space, so there would be no value in appraising the building.
"We're not looking for a lender. The money is in our (tax increment financing fund)," Eckert said. "Spending $1,000 to get an appraisal would waste taxpayers' money."
But Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore, who voted against the deal, said the city could have gotten a more economical appraisal by asking for a broker's price opinion. The city also should have used the fair market value to negotiate for a lower price.
"I rarely see real estate go for the exact asking price," Elmore said. "It's only in good spirit to the taxpayers that if we're spending TIF money we've done every bit of due diligence possible that we are getting the best deal we can."
Elmore said he asked the council to hold off on buying the property for two weeks, until the next council meeting, so an appraisal could be done.
"The mayor said if we didn't buy it, somebody else would. But that, to me, is a good reason not to buy it," Elmore said.
The city should not be in the business of buying and selling property, setting a precedent that taxpayers will buy problem properties in the future, Elmore said.
Eckert said the deal was time sensitive because he heard that a known nuisance property owner was interested in buying the property.
Eckert said Belleville real estate company, Coldwell Banker Brown Realtors, contacted him about the $110,000 drop in the asking price for the property from two years ago when it was $269,000. The city's highest offer then was $175,000.
Eckert said a week or two ago, his first written offer was $109,000. The realtor declined on behalf of the seller and Eckert tried again, offering $129,000 and then $139,000.
When the seller did not budge, Eckert said he decided to take the issue to the City Council.
Eckert said he talked to residents in the west end and his department leaders, including Police Chief Bill Clay, who were supportive.
Clay said he saw the issue from a crime deterrence perspective.
"Sometimes it's environmental factors that affect criminal behavior," Clay said. "It helps to knock down potential problems."
The city has responded to people loitering and panhandling as well as dealing with trash, furniture and derelict vehicles in the area.
"Based on the way it looks and how it was cared for, it was an important piece of property to take a hold of to stop it from becoming a nuisance property," Eckert said.
The contract has an addendum that gives the owners of the furniture store 60 days to clear the building, Eckert said. The city is also waiting for the title report and expects to close on the property about Feb. 1.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, who voted against the purchase, said the $159,000 spent on the property would have gone a long way in stabilizing the west end by opening the Police Department substation.
Hayden also said he has heard from residents currently trying to sell their homes in Belleville that they're having a difficult time getting close to the assessor's valuation of their property.
"We're talking about spending money that was not budgeted," Hayden said. "Even if I thought it was something we should do, the way that (Eckert) did it was totally wrong."
Linda Havlin, executive director of the West End Redevelopment Corp., said she fully supports the city buying the property and believes the deal was a good value.
"We thought it was a very good opportunity to change the entranceway into the city," Havlin said.
Havlin said residents have long been concerned over the use of the building. Residents have complained to the city about the furniture store displaying items on the sidewalk and taken photos of "inappropriate activity" in the area.
The property, at the border of Belleville and East St. Louis, sits in Ward 8. Both aldermen of the ward, James Musgrove and Joe Orlet, say they've had residents complain about the area.
"I've had numerous telephone complaints," Musgrove said. "They say entering the city, it looks bad."
Orlet said he agrees the decision came "a little quick" but he didn't want to run the risk of having someone else buy the property and not cleaning up the place.
"That has happened in the past," Orlet said. "That's why I thought it was the time to do it. It had gone in that direction the last few people who bought it. If they continue that trend, it's not a good thing."
Opal Loflin, et. al., purchased the property for $220,000 around 2007 from New Horizons Church. The church got the property around 2004 for $196,000 and was tax exempt during its stay.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.