Old Collinsville post office will become new parking lot

News-DemocratApril 21, 2014 

The former post office in downtown Collinsville will become a new parking lot for Main Street visitors.

The city council voted last week to approve $250,000 for the now-vacant post office property, across the street from City Hall. City leaders said there is a growing need for parking as new businesses open on Main Street. The funding will come from the city's tax increment financing district for downtown.

City Manager Scott Williams said the uptown master plan included a need for more parking. He said there have been issues with parking already, especially on days when municipal court sessions are held in City Hall.

"City Hall is sitting here on this block, with the fire station behind us. We're pretty much boxed in here," Councilman Mike Tognarelli said. "It's a low price, we have (tax increment financing) money and we only have the TIF district for eight more years."

Councilwoman Karen Woolard, however, said she was concerned about spending $250,000 when the assessed value of the property was $200,000. It is owned by a Chicago real estate firm, which had been leasing the property to the U.S. Postal Service.

"It's no secret -- I didn't vote for the city budget because I had concerns with this plan," Woolard said.

She said the uptown master plan was written in a better economy and should be revised.

Councilwoman Nancy Moss said she was considering voting no for the same reasons, but believes that the city has adjusted to the economy and its Main Street is growing despite economic trials.

"Yes, it's a lot of money, but the alternative is not to have enough parking to encourage people, including developers, to come here," Moss said. "We can make life easier for our citizens and the people who live and shop and do business uptown. ... We want to make the city as shopping-friendly, business-friendly as possible."

Mayor John Miller said the downtown business owners have been asking for more parking for 20 years. That sentiment was echoed by Wendy Valente, chairman of the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce, who petitioned the council to approve the plan on behalf of local merchants.

"You have a growing number of businesses that have opened in the last five to 10 years in the blocks adjacent to Center Street," Valente said. She added that two of the largest available spaces for potential businesses are also near the site, calling it a "good strategic decision."

However, resident Joe Ashmann is critical of the plan.

"You're acting like you're in the real estate business rather than being stewards of our money," Ashmann said. "Your oath of office didn't call for you to be in the real estate business. Do the right thing, and make the taxpayers proud."

The council voted 4-1 in favor of the land purchase, with Woolard voting against it. Williams said the engineering study is underway to proceed with the demolition of the building and construction of the new parking lot.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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