BELLEVILLE — A Swansea-based company wants to move corporate offices into the former downtown YMCA building and later develop a business incubator program at the site.
Kurt Artinger, chief executive officer of Replacement Services LLC, told city leaders Wednesday that the original Belleville Turner Hall at 15 N. First St. would likely need to be torn down in a matter of years if not restored.
Aldermen heard Artinger's proposal for the first time Wednesday at the Economic Development & Annexation Commission meeting.
Artinger asked for up to $210,000 from the city in tax increment financing funds to rehabilitate the building, replace the roof of the entire structure and remove the mold within the building.
The draft business agreement, presented by Mayor Mark Eckert and the city's economic development team, also calls for the city to sell the property to Artinger for $1 -- the amount the city paid for the building. Artinger would restore the building and lease it to his own company.
The city also would grant a certificate for sales tax abatement for building materials, an estimated $20,000.
The funds would first come from TIF No. 1, which has a balance of about $60,000, Eckert said. When TIF No. 1 expires in two years, then the funds would be drawn from abutting TIF No. 3.
The draft development agreement calls for Artinger to:
* Provide a letter of commitment from a lending institution for costs associated with the project.
* Invest at least $500,000 to complete the first phase of remodeling the existing facility.
* Bring about 13,000 square feet of the building, the first phase of the project, up to code within nine months.
* Create 36 full-time equivalent jobs within the first year and 12 in the second year. Artinger moving his 36 employees from Swansea to the new site would satisfy part of this requirement.
* Consult with the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission on any changes that affect the exterior of the building.
* Provide the city first right of refusal for 10 years.
* Retain 5,000 square feet of the building with the intent to develop a business incubator program. And allow the director of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce and the city's Economic Development and Planning director to sit on the board that oversees the incubator program.
* Operate at the site for at least six years.
Artinger said his company's current lease in Swansea expires at the end of May and he needs to know soon if city officials agree to the incentives.
Aldermen on the committee voted unanimously to forward the proposal to the Finance Committee, which meets Monday, for review.
The proposal will likely be amended before it goes before the City Council because of the following requests, among others:
Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore, a mayoral candidate, asked Artinger for more concrete details about the project's finances and site plans before city officials agreed on the incentives package.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, a mayoral candidate, asked Artinger to consider amending the agreement so that the city would perpetually have the right to refusal in case the business defaulted.
Hayden also asked if Artinger would ask for more than $210,000 in incentives from the city. Artinger said he has no plans to ask for more.
Replacement Services provides claim and underwriting services to property and casualty insurance companies. The first phase would be to turn the gymnasium part of the building into a space for a call center.
Artinger said his "fast-growing company" has 36 employees with a $2 million payroll. He expects to have more than 100 employees in the next 10 years.
Eckert said Artinger expressed interest in the site in September and it is the most detailed plan brought before his staff so far. Artinger also has restored a building on North Second Street.
Artinger fielded questions from city staff, aldermen and residents for nearly two hours.
Several aldermen questioned why Artinger waited to present details of the project and why they were asked to vote on a project they just heard about.
Artinger apologized for the timing, but explained the sensitive nature of business proposals. He said he had not intended to purchase a building but he was attracted to the site because it could accommodate his company's future growth.
Artinger also said he wanted to be sure of the cost of such a venture before he made a public presentation and he knows he will incur some expenses.
After speaking to various contractors, Artinger anticipates it will cost about $180,000 for a new roof, and up to $170,000 for mold and asbestos remediation.
Artinger said these issues would have to be resolved before his company could move into the building and such work would take about six months.
Belleville resident Rick Brown asked Artinger how much sales tax revenue his business generated for Swansea last year. Artinger said the company generated $800,000 of taxable sales.
Larry Betz, of the Belleville Historical Society, said he supports the project so long as Artinger does not damage the facade or gymnasium, which is the largest Turner Hall gym in the world.
Artinger, who grew up on Abend Street in the city's historic district, said he finds Turner Hall to be a beautiful building with lots of potential and he plans to preserve its current look as much as possible.
Aldermen were reassured there would be enough parking within a city block for 100 employees.
The building has been vacant since the YMCA moved to a new site in 2006.
Eckert has said it would take $3 million to $4 million to stabilize and rehabilitate the 40,000-square-feet building. Demolition would cost about $500,000.
Eckert said his estimate is based on the cost to renovate 510 W. Main St., which houses the city's mechanic and Human Resources and Parks and Recreation departments. The city paid about $1.5 million to $1.7 million for the 26,000-square-feet space; Turner Hall is larger and has asbestos and mold problems.