West Belleville group could splinter from city's Chamber of Commerce

News-DemocratJune 26, 2014 

Roger Wigginton.

PROVIDED/BND

— The West Belleville Promotional Committee will decide Friday whether to become its own entity or remain an arm of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce.

Roger Wigginton, co-chair of the committee, said splitting from the Chamber of Commerce will not really change how the committee operates, and the group will continue to "aggressively market" the west end.

Being a standalone group will allow the committee to act more as a neighborhood group, uniting various associations in the west end, Wigginton said.

And, the other big change is that the West Belleville Promotional Committee could then be set up as a 501(c)3 non-profit with the ability to accept donations, Wigginton said.

"When we have fundraisers, they will be tax-deductible," Wigginton said. "Now we can get more people to come to fundraisers and donate. And, if we do or say anything politically, it will not affect the Chamber."

Wigginton announced in recent weeks that he will seek election as a Ward 8 alderman on the Belleville City Council in the April 2015 election.

The Chamber is a 501(c)6 organization that cannot accept donations.

John Lengerman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said he approached the West Belleville Promotional Committee after the last committee meeting, and the two sides mutually agreed to this move.

"This in no way means we are separating from the great folks on the west end," Lengerman said. "If I think there's a member project they're trying to promote on the west end of Belleville that we can wrap our arms around...any kind of economic development thing or fundraiser thing... We'll certainly support those folks and do whatever we can and make sure Chamber members are aware."

The change would mean the West Belleville Promotional Committee could take on issues residents might want to address -- issues that do not fall under the mission of the Chamber, Lengerman said.

"We're an apolitical organization," Lengerman said. "If Roger builds support for alderman through his committee, we cannot have that be part of the Chamber. It's one of those apolitical situations that the Chamber has to make sure we're on the fence on those kinds of things. We do not take any stance on any political candidates."

Lengerman and Wigginton say the proposal mainly came about though because the committee has evolved over the years from being a group of business owners to acting more as a neighborhood group with businesses and residents.

"Ten years ago, when the idea for this committee came up, it was to pull businesses together to market and promote west Belleville," Wigginton said. "However, over the years, we are really working to pull the neighborhoods and associations together. Now we get such a big turnout -- residents, businesses, County Board officials, aldermen. We always get a good cross-section of people."

Wigginton would continue to serve on the Chamber of Commerce's executive committee, and Chamber members would continue to be part of the West Belleville committee.

Wigginton said it makes more sense for a group such as Belleville Main Street, which is made up of members who are business owners, to remain as a committee with the Chamber of Commerce.

Belleville Main Street members voted in August 2012 to merge with the Chamber.

Belleville Main Street markets a compact business district whereas the west end group has evolved into a different kind of group in order to meet the needs of businesses and residents, Wigginton said.

The West Belleville Promotional Committee represents entities from Illinois 157 to Lindenwood University-Belleville and Illinois 15 to Illinois 161, but is not limited to Belleville city limits, Wigginton said.

"We're so far away from downtown: It's 67 blocks from the square to where my store is," Wigginton said of his clothing store, Don Rodgers. "How do you get these businesses working together in such a huge territory?"

West Belleville Promotional Committee members will vote on the changes at the committee's next meeting, which is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday in the Lindenwood University-Belleville Welcome Center.

The committee plans to continue to meet on the fourth Friday of each month at that location.

If the committee approves the changes, Wigginton and the other current co-chair, Patty Gregory, will ask to continue as co-chairmen of the newly formed group.

The committee also will consider Mary Sikora as secretary and Barb Ducey as a member who will email the agenda and minutes.

Ducey is president of the Signal Hill Neighborhood Association.

Sikora is retired from Christian Social Services, which is now Caritas Family Solutions.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he does not see the proposal to split from the Chamber of Commerce as a detriment to the city because the West Belleville Promotional Committee is as enthusiastic as ever about volunteering and improving the west end.

"It's a choice they're making to restructure some things and I don't think it'll hurt the city," Eckert said. "I'm pleased and appreciative of what this group has done and will do."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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