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Give Shrine project the green light

The much-touted $50.5 million hotel-restaurant project near the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows has had a bumpy roll-out. There was too much secrecy over the identity of the developer, too many mistakes in the drafts of the agreement, and perhaps too many tax dollars promised.

And yet we support this project for its uniqueness, and what it could accomplish for Belleville. Quite simply, the positives outweigh the negatives. There is minimal risk to taxpayers, and potentially much to gain.

The plan is to build a 130-room hotel and 30,000-square-foot conference center across from the Shrine, a Hofbrauhaus restaurant and a gas and convenience mart. Up to four other restaurants could be built; the $50.5 million estimate assumes that two others will be.

Belleville for years has tried without success to land a major, upscale hotel chain; here at long last is the opportunity to get not only a hotel but a large conference venue. Between the Shrine, ever-growing Lindenwood University and area businesses, the hotel and conference center should be well used.

The Hofbrauhaus, an offshoot of the famous beer hall in Munich, Germany, is a theme restaurant that would be exclusive to the St. Louis region. This could quickly become a destination, plus it would tie in with Belleville’s German heritage. We can see the marketing possibilities now.

To make the development happen, the city plans to rebate $15.69 million to the developer plus spend $2.3 million to extend sewer lines to the site. That’s nearly $18 million, which is a higher percentage than the city usually gives a developer. The tradeoff is the city will have less risk than it has with many development agreements. The city will not be selling bonds and paying interest on them, nor will it advance money to the developer. The agreement is performance based, and the developer only gets paid with tax dollars the project generates. The city won’t break ground for the sewer lines until the project construction begins.

The site isn’t generating any tax revenue now, and that isn’t likely to change without tax incentives. Like them or not, that’s today’s reality.

Assuming everything checks out and all the contractual details are in order, we urge the City Council to approve the development agreement on Tuesday.