On the same day the 17th annual Art on the Square festival kicked off Friday outside the vacant Meredith Home building in downtown Belleville, a state board approved financing to support a $12.8 million plan to redevelop the building into senior apartments and retail space.
The city-owned building that towers over the Public Square was once targeted for demolition but now faces new life as Lofts on the Square for seniors who meet income restrictions.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority board met Friday in Chicago and approved about $7.5 million in federal low-income housing tax credits for the Lofts on the Square project.
While it is too early to announce a date that construction can begin, developers who attended Friday's meeting said the state’s decision was a critical step in moving the plan forward.
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“We’re excited. It’s a good day," said Mike Lundy, executive director of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, which is developing the project along with St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group.
“What we’re bringing forth to downtown is a resident population that enhances the already vibrant loft program that’s underway, bringing people into downtown that we are encouraging to be active seniors that will participate in the restaurant scene, the YMCA …. and all of the activities that Belleville brings, for example Art on the Square, and it will bring that much vibrancy to the city of Belleville,” said Jim Nations, chairman of the SWIDA board.
In 2016, the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, or SWIDA, and Bywater Development Group proposed to renovate the Meredith Home, which originally opened as Hotel Belleville in 1931. The developers said the renovation would not be possible without the tax credits, which can be sold to investors who use them to reduce their tax liability.
In September, the state housing board rejected the Lofts on the Square request for tax credits. At that time, there were 58 requests for tax credits but only 20 projects received them.
The estimated monthly rents at Lofts on the Square would range from $525 to $725. Plans call for 47 units on the second to sixth floors. The apartments would be for people who earn less than 60 percent of the area's median income and are 55 and older. Under these guidelines, a one-person household can earn a maximum of $31,320 annually and a two-person household can earn a maximum of $35,760.
Before construction can begin on the Lofts on the Square, the developers still have several steps to complete.
It could take six months for the tax credit sale to be completed and SWIDA and Bywater expect to request a loan of up to $1 million from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Also, the developers are seeking $2.1 million in historic building tax credits and the developers’ request to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places is pending.
If the Lofts on the Square project gets off the ground, it would add to a growing list of downtown projects that have either opened or have been proposed in recent months. A former department store building at 200 E. Main St. was converted into the Copper Fire Bar and Eatery this spring and a Columbia company in February proposed building 12 “high-end” apartments in former medical offices at 300 E. Main St.
David Dodson, CEO of the Bywater Development Group, said a vacant, legacy building such as the Meredith Home in the middle of cities such as Belleville can create a “chilling effect” on a development so the state’s ruling is a "great day for downtown Belleville.”
“To see a little over $12 million reinvested back into downtown, that’s a big thing,” Mayor Mark Eckert said.
The Lofts on the Square has the potential to bring up to 60 new residents downtown.
“That’s big for the downtown stores and restaurants and that’s also key to the future success of, you know, downtown thriving and everybody being successful," Eckert said.
Lundy said some parking spaces on the property site will be added when a rear wing of the building is removed and Eckert said the city is working with the developers on finalizing an off-site parking plan.
SWIDA and Bywater also are building the $10.9 million Metro Landing of Swansea apartment building for seniors next to the MetroLink station in Swansea. The Illinois Housing Development Authority also allocated low-income housing tax credits for this project, which is expected to be finished next year.
Here are highlights of the 87-year-old Meredith Home/Hotel Belleville building’s history:
▪ In February, the City Council agreed to spend up to $426,000 over a 10-year period for rental vouchers for 12 units in the Lofts on the Square. In exchange for this commitment, the developers agreed to pay the city $600,000 for the building instead of $500,000. If the Lofts on the Square opens as planned, the six-story building would return to the property tax rolls and could yield $30,000 annually in property tax revenue.
▪ The city bought the building in 2010 for $487,500 from the Belleville Diocese, which had operated the Meredith Memorial Home for retirees since 1962. Since it purchased the brick building, the city has spent over $120,000 fixing the roof.
▪ The city had decided to tear down the building and Belleville attorney Bruce Cook donated $500,000 to pay for the demolition and replace it with a park in honor of his late daughter. But the city later put a moratorium on the demolition and returned Cook’s donation.
▪ In 2014, the Meredith Home/Hotel Belleville building was named one of the 10 most-endangered places in the state by the preservation group Landmarks Illinois.
▪ Fans of the art deco style building have created a Facebook page called Save the Belleville Meredith Home. They also have created a petition on Change.org and have received over 380 signatures of people who support the Lofts on the Square project.
▪ Hotel Belleville opened in 1931 with a dinner reception for 1,000 guests. Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society, has said the building was the “crown jewel of Belleville as far as commercial buildings go.”