No hotel, no jobs and no money

April 23, 2013 

"Request for a business relationship: We have the pleasure to make this surprising but mutually benefiting business proposal. ... "

Centreville didn't fall for that email scam out of Nigeria, but it did something equally foolish and costly.

It believed a development company based in a bait shop in New Athens could bring a 100-room hotel and a lock manufacturing plant to Centreville -- with the village's financial help, of course. Centreville borrowed $1 million, then forked out $500,000 toward buying property that's now listed solely in the developer's name. Inexcusably, the village did this without requiring a written development agreement.

Surprise, surprise, a year later there is no hotel or manufacturing plant.

Developer Roger Strong calls Centreville leaders' actions "absolutely ignorant." He said he isn't obligated to repay the $500,000, turn the property over to the city or develop the site. In fact, he's threatening to sue Centreville because he said the village promised to spend even more.

In June at a groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor Mark Jackson called it an "awesome day for Centreville." But last week he couldn't be reached to talk about this deal gone bad.

Rodney Lewis, Centreville's former economic director, said that "a host of legal options ... will make the taxpayer whole."

Wonder how much that will cost, and if it even can be done?

If only Centreville leaders had worked at protecting the taxpayers at the beginning, the village might not be in this bind today.

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