City officials continued to push this month for economic incentives that could help bring an independent grocery store back into the community.
The city's only grocery store, Tom's Market and formerly Don's IGA, closed in the fall, Mayor Rich Wilken said, mirroring trends in other small-town communities. The owner of grocery chain Tom's Market announced recently stores in Nashville and Freeburg would close, leaving the towns without a local grocery option.
"It's similar to other small towns, like Tom's closing in Nashville and Freeburg," the mayor said. "It left us without a grocery store."
A gas station is also part of the proposed development, according to a proposed redevelopment plan.
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Lebanon has a population of roughly 4,500, according to U.S. Census Data, and is also home to McKendree University.
Jenny Posey, whose family is spearheading the project, said they plan to break ground as soon as the end of April.
Her father, Don Elbe, ran the city's only grocery store, Don's IGA, from 1980 until his death in 2000, according to Michael Elbe, Jenny's brother and Don's son. The Elbe children ran the store for two years after their father died, Posey said, but eventually sold it to the owners of Tom's Market, which closed in the fall.
"We want to give back to the community the way my dad did," Posey said.
Michael Elbe mirrored his sister's sentiments, saying "the town has to have an anchor and the town needs a grocery store."
"It's somewhat of a legacy. My dad was a very, very good grocer," Michael Elbe said. "The reason that it’s a great thing to bring it back is to bring it (the grocery business) up to my dad’s standards."
They plan to name the future grocery store after their dad.
But before the developers break ground on the site, a plot of farmland near 705 S. Madison St., two economic zones need to be made ready to accommodate the businesses, the mayor says.
Approving tax incentives for businesses is a departure from the city's past operations, the mayor said, in an era when economic zones are common in cities of all sizes.
"Lebanon is a farm-oriented little community that stayed to itself. No one was looking to the future," Wilken said. "But times have changed on those attitudes because we’re struggling financially as a city and we're looking ways to develop stores. A grocery store would be a great opportunity."
The city has tentatively approved its first tax increment financing (TIF) district, with a final public hearing April 23, but City Council would also need to approve taking out a $40,000 loan to pay for the initial costs of starting the TIF district.
"There are certain things we have to do to start producing more (tax revenue)," Wilkin said of the loan. "It's a spending money to make money situation."
The TIF district would direct any increase in property tax revenue into a special fund that could be used for public improvements or investments made by businesses.
The mayor also hopes an existing enterprise zone can be expanded to the area. An expansion of the St. Clair County MidAmerica Enterprise Zone would need approval from the St. Clair County Board and three other cities before it could be changed to include the area on S. Madison Street.
The city has petitioned the county to expand the zone. Portions of Lebanon, Mascoutah, Shiloh and O'Fallon fall into that zone, so the city would need approval from the other three municipalities, as well as the county board and the Illinois Department of Commerce.
Before gaining approval from the respective public bodies, the proposal must be brought up at a public hearing. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 23 at the St. Clair County Building in Belleville.
St. Clair County Economic Development Department Terry Beach said expanding the enterprise zone would allow future businesses to save through a one-time sales tax exemption. In an enterprise zone, no sales tax is paid on building materials for construction or renovation of commercial building on a one-time basis.
"This helps attract investment that might otherwise go elsewhere," Beach said.
The approval process normally takes about two months, Beach said, and they were roughly one month in as of early March.
The mayor said a business could break ground as soon as May 1 at the S. Madison Street location.