Belleville City Council approves deal for building demolition and downtown upgrades

News-DemocratJune 3, 2013 

— The owner of Ben's downtown will buy and expand to the former Nice Twice shop after the City Council voted Monday to approve $260,000 on the deal.

John Conkright told aldermen that he had to decide by Tuesday whether to buy the buildings at 116 and 120 E. Main St.

The cost of remodeling will be three times as much as what he is paying for the buildings, which is part of why he's asking the city for help, Conkright said.

The City Council voted 13-2 to give Conkright $60,100 over two years for the renovations.

The city also will pay Conkright $185,000 for a building at 18 S. High St. and $14,900 for two adjacent parking lots -- the appraised values for the parcels.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti voted "no."

Also according to the development agreement, the city will demolish the High Street building, which houses the Sukha Yoga Center, to expand the abutting city parking lot.

Mayor Mark Eckert estimates the city will spend up to $150,000 to build the new parking lot. The cost includes a high estimate of $37,000 to demolish the High Street building.

Tax increment financing dollars from District No. 3 will pay for the project though the lots are part of TIF District No. 17, Eckert said.

Conkright's responsibilities include investing $450,000 in renovating his new space by Feb. 28, 2014; making at least $300,000 in new sales subject to sales tax; retaining five jobs and creating one new job in the first year; and staying at the site for 10 years.

The city would allow an estimated $15,000 in sales tax abatement for the remodeling; rebate 50 percent of incremental property tax directly related to the improvements; and reimburse 20 percent of the cost of facade improvements for three facades.

The agreement also requires the city to reserve six parking spaces on another lot off Washington Street for employees of Ben's.

The city also grants truck access on the city's parking lot for deliveries to Ben's.

Initially, the city proposed giving Conkright $75,000 for the parking lots, but Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle asked why the city wasn't paying the $14,900 appraised value.

Then Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said the city should pay the appraised value and give the remaining $61,100 in incentives if Conkright could explain how the money will be used.

Eckert said Ben's is downtown's biggest shop and the area would have a "massive void" without Ben's as an anchor.

The deal also would bring the former Nice Twice building back on tax rolls since Conkright will be buying from Lutheran Child and Family Services, Eckert said.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt agreed city leaders need to look at the big picture.

Conkright has invested in the city for 36 years, has a respected record and his store is a destination for shoppers who come to Belleville, Schmidt said.

In other news:

* Aldermen voted 11-4 against a request for a variance to open a massage therapy business at 215 Delaware Ave., which is zoned single-family.

Tara Wagner presented a petition with 103 signatures for her business. And, a half dozen people spoke on her behalf, including neighbors who said they would like to see the building occupied.

Project opponents had a petition with 24 signatures.

Eckert and Schmidt said the council is not anti-business, but want to respect homeowners who buy property in single-family areas expecting quiet and a business-free zone.

* Aldermen approved $133,205 to buy right-of-way for the bike trail that will go from Citizens to Bellevue parks.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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