In October, when the Belleville City Council was about to blindly vote to expand its enterprise zone, Mayor Mark Eckert reassured everyone that it would just be a “couple weeks” until the public knew the details of a planned business development near Our Lady of the Snows.
Now it’s nearly two months later, and the promises sound great – two hotels, a conference center and four restaurants – but the details have yet to be released. Even the aldermen don’t know the name of the developer or the businesses supposedly ready to locate here if only the city will provide enough tax incentives.
The City Council is scheduled to vote blindly again on Monday on annexing the property and hiring a consultant to set up the incentives, including a tax increment financing district that would last at least 23 years. Alderman Kent Randle is right, the aldermen should not in good conscience proceed any further until the public knows the who and what of this project.
Why the secrecy? Knowing the name of the developer and that developer’s track record are basic. It indicates whether this is a realistic project, or just pie in the sky. You can bet that other developers know what’s going on; the public deserves to know, also.
Belleville and other metro-east communities have heard a lot of people pitch big ideas over the years, only to have them never materialize or fall short of expectations. We hope that won’t be the case this time. However, Belleville has been trying for years to land one hotel; to suddenly be told that two will be built almost sounds too good to be true - especially when the developer won’t be identified.
Supposedly the developer has said that this project can only happen with tax incentives from the city. Well, incentives should not be considered until the public knows the developer’s name and the specific plans.