Belleville

Once again, this iconic Belleville building faces an uncertain future

A look at the project to rejuvenate Meredith Home

A 2016 video produced by Southwestern Illinois Development Authority on the redevelopment plans for the former Meredith Home in Belleville.
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A 2016 video produced by Southwestern Illinois Development Authority on the redevelopment plans for the former Meredith Home in Belleville.

The leader of a metro-east development authority is “very disappointed” the state has refused to help finance a $12 million plan to transform the former Hotel Belleville/Meredith Memorial Home building into senior apartments and retail space on the Public Square in downtown Belleville.

To clear the way for the project, dubbed the Lofts on the Square, the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, or SWIDA, asked the state for $9 million in financing: $8 million in low-income housing tax credits and a $1 million loan.

But the Illinois Housing Development Authority declined SWIDA’s application.

Jim Nations, chairman of the SWIDA board, said the project “absolutely” needed the state housing authority to OK the $9 million financing request.

“That’s our primary source of funding,” Nations said.

Our project ranked reasonably well, but obviously we need to do more work to tune our application.

Jim Nations, board chairman for SWIDA

SWIDA, along with St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group, proposed the $12 million project last year. The first floor would be converted to commercial use, and the second through sixth floors of the building would be apartments for people over 55 who earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

A decision has not yet been announced on whether SWIDA will reapply for the tax credits and loan, Nations said.

“SWIDA’s very disappointed we were unable to secure IHDA’s approval of this project,” Nations said. “They did fund a significant number of projects in the more northern part of the state.

“Our project ranked reasonably well, but obviously we need to do more work to tune our application. We do intend to discuss with our participants, the city of Belleville and Bywater Development and the SWIDA board to determine what our next steps are.”

The Illinois Housing Development Authority board met Friday in Chicago, and the Belleville project was not on the agenda. SWIDA received a notice this week that the Lofts on the Square application was not accepted.

Nations said the number of parking spaces for the project was one of the concerns raised by the state housing authority.

Andrew Field, a spokesman for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, said there were 58 applications for the low-income housing tax credits, but the authority only had enough credits to fund 20 development projects.

“Unfortunately, Lofts on the Square received a mandatory failure due to issues related to zoning,” Field said in statement.

Field said the Lofts on the Square developers can reapply for the credits next year, and he noted that 19 of the 58 finalists this year were resubmissions.

“It’s a highly competitive process,” Nations said.

Mayor Mark Eckert said he would talk to SWIDA leaders about the next step to take.

“I’m disappointed, but I think we still got a lot invested in the project thus far, and we’re going to continue to work together with them see if we still can’t make something happen,” Eckert said.

‘Crown jewel’

The six-story brick building that towers over the Public Square opened as the Hotel Belleville in 1931, was rechristened the Meredith Memorial Home as a home for retirees in 1962 and recently was threatened with demolition after the city purchased it in 2010 for $487,500 from the Diocese of Belleville.

Bruce Cook, a Belleville lawyer, gave the city $500,000 to tear down the building and replace it with a park in honor of Cook’s late daughter.

But fans of the art deco building at 16 S. Illinois St. rallied to prevent it from being torn down. A Save the Belleville Meredith Home Facebook page popped up and now has more than 1,700 likes. Cook has since been refunded his donation because the city placed a moratorium on demolition and began seeking a developer for the Meredith Home.

In 2014, the Hotel Belleville/Meredith Home was named one of the 10 most-endangered places in the state by the preservation group Landmarks Illinois. Since then, the city has spent more than $120,000 to repair the roof of the 86-year-old building.

It was the crown jewel of Belleville as far as commercial buildings go.

Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society

The Hotel Belleville opened with a dinner reception in 1931 that drew 1,000 guests. The “first class” hotel was a popular place for weddings and social events, according to a report by Bob Brunkow, the historian for the Belleville Historical Society.

“It was the crown jewel of Belleville as far as commercial buildings go,” said Larry Betz, president of the historical society. “That was the place.”

As part of the redevelopment plan, the developers are seeking to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. If this designation is granted, the developers plan to request $2.1 million in historic building tax credits.

“It’s a challenging project to fully describe the emotional value to the city of Belleville,” Nations said.

At a glance

A timeline of Hotel Belleville/Meredith Memorial Home:

  • 1931: Six-story, art deco building opens as Hotel Belleville
  • 1962: Meredith Memorial Home opens for retirees
  • 2010: City of Belleville buys building
  • 2013: Belleville plans to tear down building but then puts moratorium on demolition
  • 2016: $12 million renovation plan announced
  • 2017: State rejects financing request for redevelopment plan
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