BELLEVILLE — A developer who wants the former downtown YMCA building for office space and a business incubator program has the support of groups that vied for other uses.
Larry Betz, of the Belleville Historical Society, thought the building at 15 N. First St., which originally housed Turner Hall, could be refurbished into an arts and cultural center.
And, the Rev. Larry Rice, of the New Life Evangelistic Center in St. Louis, wanted to turn the building into a homeless shelter.
But both Betz and Rice said Thursday they were glad to see developer Kurt Artinger's detailed plans for the site.
Artinger, 52, wants to buy the building and move his company, Replacement Services LLC, and current employees from its Swansea site to a "neat environment" to work.
The open floor plan situates a call center in the existing gymnasium and reserves 5,000 square feet for the business incubator program.
Artinger's company has been at One Bronze Pointe Suite 1C for the past six months and the lease expires at the end of May, Artinger said. The company had other locations in Swansea and Fairview Heights.
Swansea Mayor Jim Rauckman said the village, of course, doesn't want any businesses to leave Swansea.
"...But the potential restoration of a historic building like the old YMCA will be best appreciated by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Rauckman said. "The betterment of the area transcends city limit signs."
Artinger estimates it will cost up to $800,000 to fix parts of the building so it is inhabitable. About $350,000 of the cost will be to replace the entire roof, and remove mold and asbestos.
City leaders are considering a business agreement that would give Artinger $210,000 in tax increment financing funds for the roof and mold, and $20,000 in sales tax abatement for building materials.
Artinger will use a lending institution to pay for the rest of the project. Per the agreement, he must invest at least $500,000 to remodel the facility, among other requirements.
Betz and other preservationists are happy that Artinger wants to be minimally invasive to the building, keeping the original facade and preserving much of the gymnasium.
"Our primary goal was always to save the building," Betz said. "I'm so happy to see something will be done there. I hope he follows through with what he said."
Artinger said his trustworthiness has earned him the business of most of the top 10 insurance providers in the country. His company, founded in 2000, streamlined the process of replacing lost and stolen jewelry in claims filed with insurance companies.
Artinger said he will invite Betz to participate in the design phase if the project goes forward.
Artinger now lives in Shiloh, annexed from Belleville Township, but he grew up in Belleville and worked at his family's jewelry store.
"I am an old-time Belleville guy," Artinger said.
Artinger's grandfather opened Syl Fietsam Jewelry in 1944 and had a store on North High Street and then East Main Street. When Artinger's father died, Artinger and his brother managed the store. The store closed in 1994 when Artinger's mom retired.
Artinger had his own store, Artinger Jewelry, from 1995 to 2001 in Carlyle Plaza.
Saving the old Turner Hall is not going to make Artinger tons of money, but he said it is a worthy cause.
Artinger also finds real value in cultivating early-stage entrepreneurs.
The business incubator program would bring startups to Belleville -- then provide mentors and share resources with help from area colleges -- and perhaps retain them in the city as they grow.
The program would be similar in concept to the Regional Entrepreneur Exchange, or TREx, in St. Louis.
Mayor Mark Eckert said his administration has long been interested in developing such a program for the city.
"His vision struck a nerve with us," Eckert said. "It has great potential to help young entrepreneurs. He's very sincere with pursuing that."
Rice said he applauds all efforts of job creation because it helps eliminate homelessness.
Rice said he will ask city leaders and residents for alternative sites for a homeless shelter. If Artinger's proposal falls through, then Rice will continue to ask for the old YMCA.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.