BELLEVILLE — Mayor Mark Eckert broke a tie vote Monday night to give $200,000 in tax increment financing funds to Kroger Co. to build a new supermarket.
Half of the City Council argued against giving incentives to the country's largest grocery store chain. Aldermen also were concerned about the market's impact on sales at other grocery stores because of proximity and whether the store will bring full-time jobs with benefits to the region.
Eckert said he's delighted Kroger Co. will build a new Ruler Foods store at 1703 North Belt West and produce sales tax revenue. The site of the old Bel-Air Bowl has been vacant for about six years and continues to be more blighted every day, Eckert said.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden asked whether the grocery store will have adequate parking and about the store's impact on traffic conditions in the area.
Economic Development and Planning Manager Emily Fultz said the business has not submitted a site plan but there is adequate parking based on the square footage of the store. Also, a traffic study is not necessary unless there are changes to the road infrastructure at the site.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult wanted to know why Kroger Co. was bringing in a discount store instead of its flagship brand.
"I think they're making a statement about the kind of town we are," Hult said.
Ward 3 Alderman Rob Anderson said many stores, in the current economy, are downsizing and opening smaller stores. Businesses also do feasibility studies to pick the right location, he added.
Kroger Co. will be reimbursed for site improvements and construction of a 19,260-square-feet store. According to the development agreement, the store promises to:
* Invest at least $2.9 million, within a year of acquiring the property, on work such as property acquisition, demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new store.
* Create at least 12 full-time equivalent jobs in the first year.
* Generate annual sales of no less than $5.5 million for each of the first two years and $6.5 million for each of the third, fourth and fifth years.
* And operate at the site for at least five years.
Aldermen who voted "yes" to approve the agreement were: Anderson, Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, Ward 2 Alderwoman Dorothy Meyer, Ward 3 Alderman Gabby Rujawitz, Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby, Ward 6 Alderman Paul Seibert and Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove.
Aldermen who voted "no" were: Hult, Hayden, Ward 4 Aldermen Tim Carpenter and Dean Hardt, Ward 7 Aldermen Phil Elmore and Lillian Schneider, and Ward 8 Alderman Joe Orlet.
Ward 1 Alderman Michael Heisler voted "present."
Ward 6 Alderman Dave Martinson was absent.
Elmore, a mayoral candidate, stated after the meeting that he questions why the city refuses to negotiate on behalf of taxpayers.
"I feel the reason Kroger chose to open in Belleville is because Belleville was the only community that they were researching that offered a $200,000 incentive," Elmore stated.
Also during the meeting:
* After the vote on incentives for Kroger Co., aldermen had a broader discussion on the use of TIF funds and asked for transparency from Eckert and city staff on business agreements.
Hayden, a mayoral candidate in the April election, said taxpayers have the right to know, for example, when businesses get reimbursed for a portion of the property taxes they make for improvements to a site.
The increased property tax revenue going into TIF funds could instead go to improving the city's computer systems, Hayden said. This way, public documents could be stored electronically and it won't take city staff dozens of hours to produce information on business agreements.
Hult said that she, in addition to Schneider, requested information on the city's various business agreements from recent years. It should not take the city so long to produce documents the city claims to already be monitoring, Hult said.
Eckert said it takes time for city staff to go through files and process information requests. Aldermen's recent request for information on the city's various business agreements has taken about 50 hours to process.
The city gets "an abundance" of requests from aldermen and the public, including businesses that want access to the city's databases for commercial purposes, Eckert added.
"It's gotten carried away; it's gotten bizarre," Eckert said about the volume of request for public information.
* Eckert said he will meet with Charter Communications and Lindenwood University officials in the next few days about a collaboration to tape City Council meetings. Eckert said city staff is still working with a website company to develop a new city website they're satisfied with.
Residents and candidates in the April election have called for the city to televise public meetings on television and online.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.