BELLEVILLE — The Rev. Larry Rice still hopes some day to convert the old downtown YMCA into a shelter for homeless people, but Rice certainly won't be able to count on Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden's support for these plans.
Rice's group, the New Life Evangelistic Center, of St. Louis, sent out a fundraising letter recently in which he quoted public statements from Hayden on the need for the city -- which owns the empty YMCA building at 15 N. First St. -- to spend $133,000 to replace the building's decaying roof.
Rice's letter, however, triggered an angry response from Hayden, who contends the letter implied Hayden supports turning the YMCA building -- also known as Turner Hall -- into a homeless shelter.
In a news release dated Friday, Hayden sought to clear up any confusion about his position on the proposed shelter.
"When you read my letter of record you can see I in no way endorse the use of the Belleville Turner Hall as a homeless shelter," wrote Hayden, one of three candidates in the April mayoral election. "With Rev. Rice including my letter of record in his appeal for financial support one might make the wrong assumption that I support his mission."
Hayden said on Saturday that he's received at least 20 contacts, via email and Facebook postings, that inquired if he supports the homeless shelter as a result of the fundraising letter.
"People could draw the inference that I endorse this, and I want to make it clear that I don't," Hayden said.
For his part, Rice said the letter was not intended to suggest that Hayden supports a homeless shelter at that location.
"I've never talked to Joe Hayden, nor have I sought his support," Rice said.
Hayden's 2012 public statement about the need for the city to replace the building's roof to avert damage to its interior was included in the letter because "it's the most concise and well-put statement as far as feasibility for that particular building," Rice said.
What's more, Rice said he wanted to counter the message presented by Mayor Mark Eckert that the building is in poor shape.
"We're sending out documentation that there is a good building there, and that it's terrible, actually sinful, that the city wants to spend $500,000 to tear it down," Rice said.
The Belleville City Council is pondering whether to give developer Kurt Artinger of Replacement Services LLC, of Swansea, tax breaks and $210,000 in tax increment funding to convert the building into a business incubator program that would create 36 full-time equivalent jobs.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.