Metro-East News

Fraternal groups in Belleville, Cahokia selling banquet halls

Two metro-east fraternal organizations are getting out of the banquet hall business and are selling their buildings.

The Belleville Elks Lodge and the Cahokia Knights of Columbus both have listed their banquet halls for sale with the BarberMurphy Group.

The Elks will keep their pool open but will sell the banquet hall that was built in 1979 at 1481 S. Illinois St., according to Matt Barriger, the listing agent with BarberMurphy. The 21,800-square-foot hall has seating for over 250 people and is located on about four acres just south of the intersection of Illinois Street and Illinois 15. The sale price is $680,000.

A representative from Elks Lodge 481 could not be reached for comment.

Since the 1960s, the Cahokia Knights of Columbus hall off Mississippi Avenue at Fifth Street has been a place for residents to play bingo, have a drink or attend fundraisers for all kinds of causes.

But due to increasing maintenance costs of the hall and fewer active Knights and visitors to the hall, Council 4596 has decided to put the banquet hall and bar up for sale for $275,000.

The decision to sell the hall was not an easy one, said leaders of the Catholic fraternal organization.

Bill Graves vertical
Bill Graves, financial secretary of the Cahokia Knights of Columbus, said the group is selling its banquet hall and bar for $275,000. Mike Koziatek

“There were raw emotions going on and still are,” said Bill Graves, the financial secretary for the council. “It’s a hard decision, a lot of members are generational here, their fathers and grandfathers built this building and built the council. But everybody knows what’s best for the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus is so much more than a building.”

Bo Franey, the grand knight for the council, said, “The maintenance on it is killing us.”

Although the hall may be sold, the Cahokia Knights of Columbus members vow to stay together as a group to raise funds for charity as it always has.

Graves and Franey said their group is in talks with nearby Holy Family Catholic Church to see if the council can meet on parish property and host events there as well.

The money and time spent on keeping the hall open could be directed at more charitable efforts, Graves and Franey said.

“We hope to continue those good works and even be more charitable in the future when we aren’t tied down to this building so much,” Graves said.

The group’s charitable efforts include the annual Tootsie Roll drive to raise money for developmentally disabled persons and supporting the Cahokia Community Basket food pantry. The Knights give the food pantry free use of a small building next to the banquet hall and Ken Diers of the food pantry said he is not sure what will happen to the food pantry if someone buys the Knights’ property.

Bo Franey vertical
Bo Franey, grand knight of the Cahokia Knights of Columbus, said the maintenance costs for the group’s banquet hall and bar have become too burdensome. Mike Koziatek

The 2.66-acre site has great visibility from Mississippi Avenue with 472 feet of frontage along the busy road, said Barriger, who showed the property to a prospective buyer Thursday. The hall can seat over 400 people.

Joseph Cullen, spokesman for the national headquarters of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut, said in an email, “Many councils have discovered that maintaining a hall can undercut their primary mission.

“As a result, many councils have chosen to stop using home corporation buildings and become parish-based. Doing so has allowed them to reach new heights of service through a legacy of sizeable charitable contributions benefiting the Church and community. This has been encouraged by our senior leadership.”

Cullen also said the national leaders “encourage councils to be sure to make clear the distinction between the council itself and any business that is operated out of a council home.”

In light of this directive, the Collinsville Knights of Columbus has decided to keep its banquet hall open but is in the process of rebranding the hall and bar at 1 Columbus Plaza off Illinois 157.

Jim Odorizzi, the treasurer for the Collinsville council, said the banquet hall has been renamed Columbus Plaza and the bar is now called Pub 1492.

Odorizzi said signs are expected to be installed to reflect the new names.

Dwindling number of volunteers

In 2015, leaders of the South Side Improvement Association in Belleville put out a plea for new members.

“We’re looking for new, fresh members that are willing to work toward the cause,” the group’s president, Dan Willcutt, told the News-Democrat. Most of the group’s members were in their 70s. They were known for their turtle soup fundraisers.

But by the summer of 2016, the group had disbanded because the plea for new members was not successful.

The city of Belleville recently paid for the demolition of the South Side Improvement Association building, which was owned by the city and was at 800 S. Sixth St. next to the city’s South Side Park.

In Cahokia at the Knights of Columbus, Franey and Graves also said they have had to deal with fewer active members.

“I just don’t think we get the volunteerism that we did a generation or two ago,” Graves said.

Franey said if 30 members show up at a meeting in Cahokia, that would be a good night. Overall, the group has 388 members on its rolls but many have left the area.

Graves noted that Cahokia once had two Catholic parishes but now it only has Holy Family at 116 Church St.