A deal with a potential developer for the Meredith Home on Belleville’s Public Square has been dropped, and city leaders are once again on the hunt for someone to give the hulking, brick building new life.
The city spent more than a year negotiating with a developer but city officials rejected the company’s offer because it declined to buy the vacant structure from the city and instead wanted to make payments to the city as revenue was generated in the building.
Now, the City Council will be asked on Monday night to authorize city staff to release what’s known as a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Meredith Home.
We no longer have to roll over and give the farm away. I think eventually we’ll get somebody.
Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton
“I still think that building is very important and vital to our square,” Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton said during a recent Economic Development and Annexation Committee meeting.
“We no longer have to roll over and give the farm away,” Wigginton said. “I think eventually we’ll get somebody.”
The committee voted unanimously to ask the full council to OK another round of bids for the building.
Belleville bought the building in 2010 for $487,500 from the Diocese of Belleville, which had operated a home for the elderly in the building at 16 S. Illinois St. since the early 1960s. Before that, it was the Hotel Belleville, which opened in 1931.
Landmark Illinois, a nonprofit group that works to save historic buildings, put the six-story Meredith Home on its list of the most endangered buildings in the state in 2014. The group continues to list the Art Deco-style building as “still threatened.”
Eric Schauster, the assistant director of the city’s Economic Development, Planning and Zoning department, declined to release the name of the potential developer who had been negotiating with the city.
When the city last sought proposals for the site in 2013, it received four bids and city officials interviewed three of the companies. Then a committee of city staffers and two aldermen, Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, who is chairman of the Economic Development and Annexation Committee, and Ward 6 Alderman Bob White, whose district includes the Meredith Home, chose the company that recently was rejected.
This company proposed a mixed-use development with retail and office space on the first and second floors and high-end apartments on floors three to six with a rooftop patio, Schauster said. In exchange, the city considered giving the developer property tax rebates through the existing East Main Street TIF and a state sales tax exemption on building materials through the city’s enterprise zone.
I think we’re in a much better position now than we were at even two years ago. We’re back on the map and people are looking at us again.
Eric Schauster, assistant director of the city’s Economic Development, Planning and Zoning department
Before this round of talks, the city had rejected an offer from a developer who wanted to open a “boutique hotel. That developer also wanted the city to give him the building, $12 million in TIF funding and a parking garage. When Schauster recounted the city’s rejection of this developer’s request, he drew laughs from the Economic Development and Annexation Committee members.
Also, the city once agreed with Belleville attorney Bruce Cook to accept a $500,000 donation from Cook for a park to be built there in honor of Cook’s late daughter. However, the city has since returned Cook’s donation and put a moratorium on demolishing the building.
As the city embarks on another search for a developer, Schauster believes the economy has improved to the point where the city may get more than three or four serious proposals this time.
“I think we’re in a much better position now than we were at even two years ago. We’re seeing signs that the economy’s turning,” Schauster said. “We’re back on the map and people are looking at us again.”
Schauster said potential Meredith Home developers will have to deal with parking, roof and asbestos issues.
One of the city’s requirements calls for the developer to present a parking plan without reducing existing public parking.
“We know parking is probably one of the biggest issues we have with the property, so that’s the stickiest thing,” Schauster said.
Wigginton said he believes the city and a potential developer would be able to “work out the parking some way or shape or form.”
The roof will likely have to be replaced, but for now the city is looking at options for temporary repairs to patch leaks, Schauster said.
Asbestos in the building will either have to be sealed or removed.
However, a preservation architect assessed the building in 2013 and found that overall the building is in “pretty good shape,” Schauster said.
When Landmarks Illinois listed the Meredith Home on its most endangered buildings, 10 other sites were listed. Of those 11, only one has a rehab underway while nine are still listed as threatened, including a water tower in Millstadt. One of the structures on the roster is listed as partially demolished.
Keeping history alive
People who want the building to be redeveloped support a Facebook page called Save the Belleville Meredith Home.
The former Hotel Belleville was known as a first-class hotel that held weddings and prominent social occasions as well as business meetings, according to a commentary published by Bob Brunkow, the historian for the Belleville Historical Society.
“Its Art Deco style is evidenced in the geometrical patterns formed by brick and terra cotta,” Brunkow wrote. “Representatives of Art Deco in Belleville are rare and small: None approach Hotel Belleville in terms of size, style or historical significance.”
Representatives of Art Deco in Belleville are rare and small: None approach Hotel Belleville in terms of size, style or historical significance.
Bob Brunkow, historian for the Belleville Historical Society
Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society, noted that the Meredith Home now has “preliminary status” on the National Register of Historic Places and is eligible to receive 20 percent in federal tax credits.
Betz said developers in Missouri can also get 20 percent in state tax credits for rehabbing historic buildings but Illinois does not offer this incentive.
Both Schauster and Betz said they wish Illinois lawmakers would grant this exemption.
Betz said states with this incentive will see a greater number of historic buildings saved, and Schauster said the upfront cost of the incentive pays off in the long run because the redevelopment strengthens the local economy.
The lack of this incentive damages the chances of historic buildings being renovated in the metro-east, Betz said.
“That’s kind of the deal-breaker for Illinois,” he said.
- The Belleville City Council will be asked on April 18 to authorize staff to seek bids for the redevelopment of the Meredith Home on Public Square.
- The deadline to send in proposals is expected to be May 24.
- Applicants could be interviewed in June and negotiations could begin in August.
Source: City of Belleville