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Two hotels, convention center, 4 restaurants planned for Shrine

Two hotels, a convention center, four restaurants and a convenience store will be built next to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows if a developer gets economic incentives, Mayor Mark Eckert and a Shrine spokesman said.

As the city proceeds with plans to annex the Shrine, it also is laying the groundwork to establish a new TIF district and other incentives to facilitate the arrival of the major commercial development on 33 acres across from the Shrine off Illinois 15.

Eckert and the Shrine official declined to name the developer and businesses, but said the developer would release details soon.

“This project will stand out in the whole St. Louis area,” Eckert said. The mayor said the project will increase the city’s tax base and added that he hopes the project will signal to residents and other developers that things are “alive and well” in west Belleville.

The city announced in October plans to annex the Shrine, located on the south side of Illinois 15, and about 177 acres of undeveloped land the Shrine owns on the north side of Illinois 15, with the understanding that the area will be developed commercially.

The City Council on Dec. 15 will vote on the annexation agreement. They also will consider hiring Gene Norber, president of Economic Development Resources LLC, to help the city establish an enterprise zone, tax increment financing district and business district for the boundaries of the project.

Developers have said the project is dependent on the approval of these incentives, Eckert said. The enterprise zone alone would give an estimated $1.5 million in savings for the project.

In return, the city is expected to get an estimated $350,000 in sales tax revenue yearly from the development as currently proposed.

But whether the state approves the city’s new enterprise zone boundaries, or the Belleville City Council approves these new TIF and business districts, will not be known until next year.

The city is considering three types of incentives: an enterprise zone, which allows for abatement of sales tax on building construction materials purchased in Illinois; a tax increment financing district, which captures incremental property taxes for a certain number of years to return to the developer; and a business district, which means an extra 1 percent of sales tax will be charged at the location for specified items to be returned in part to the developer.

Only 33 acres of the mostly undeveloped 177 acres is expected to be part of the TIF district and business district. The hotels, restaurants, convenience store and convention center are planned on the 33 acres. The rest of the property is reserved for future development.

The enterprise zone, however, would comprise both the north and south sides of the Shrine property.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt said it’s exciting for the city to expand in the direction of Interstate 255.

“So many people say Belleville’s problem is that we’re not on the interstate,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s very exciting that we’re going down that way. It’s just great. We’re getting things we need like a hotel and more restaurants and a nice shopping area.”

Not everyone agrees. Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle said Wednesday he could not in good conscience vote to move the annexation forward without knowing more about the project, especially since the annexation agreement is tied to economic incentives.

Randle wants to know who the developer is, what the developer’s track record is and what brands are involved in the project.

“I need a little bit more before I commit the taxpayers of the city,” Randle said after the Economic Development and Annexation Committee meeting.

Randle is concerned with how the city’s fire and police departments and schools will be affected; whether the city will end up needing to fix Illinois 157 and Interstate 255, routes that will bring visitors to the Shrine area; and the city’s responsibility to provide services such as snow removal and sewer connection.

“When you are bringing in the type of commercial they’re talking about, to take a leap of faith, without knowing about the developer or what businesses — I don’t think that’s the due diligence that is required,” Randle said. “I think residents want us to know that before making a decision.”

All members of the Economic Development and Annexation Committee except for Randle voted to move the annexation agreement forward for a full City Council vote on Dec. 15. The committee, minus Randle, also voted to support hiring Norber.

The annexation agreement also outlines the following:

The city will waive the sewer tap-in fee for an existing Shrine building on the north side of Illinois 15. New development will have to pay the tap-in fee to get connected to the sewer system.

The Shrine roads will remain private and the Shrine will be responsible for infrastructure upkeep. But the city would provide snow and ice removal after it clears its own city streets.

The city will rebate to the Shrine five years’ worth of the Shrine’s utility taxes and telecommunications taxes at its existing buildings, not the new development. The Shrine property currently includes 400 acres of an apartment community with skilled and unskilled nursing homes, a visitor center, church, amphitheater and hotel.

Future development could include a winery, fuel station, sports and entertainment venues and outdoor dining. The Shrine also might build a cemetery, mausoleum or offices.

The city waives the existing Shrine buildings from having to comply with city codes related to parking space requirements, green space requirements and building codes. The existing buildings still have to comply with county codes, which are similar to city codes.