O'Fallon Progress

Shiloh mayor breaks tie vote to move $400,000 barn proposal forward

The Shiloh Board of Trustees remains divided on how to move forward with the dilapidated Red Barn that continues to sit at the end of Country Lane. Do they pass the bid opening up to $400,000 to restore the building for a new Cultural Arts Center? Or do they tear it down and construct a new building for the center?

After much deliberation, the board remained split during its Jan. 23 committee at large meeting 3-3. Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier cast the swing vote to pass moving the bid opening to a $300,000 maximum, and a $400,000 finance proposal for the Red Barn rehabilitation. A final vote is expected to take place next month during the full board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6.

Village Administrator John Marquart informed the board that the village qualified for a tax exempt note on a loan with Commerce Bank locally for $400,000 to finance the initial improvements.

Trustees Mark Kurtz, Greg O’Neil and Bob Weilmuenster voted in opposition, while Colleen Powers, Tina Warchol and Kurt Burrelsman approved the maximum bid amount be reduced from $400,000 to $300,000.

Shiloh purchased the Red Barn, located at 2400 Country Lane, on Oct. 8, 2009 for $185,000. Built in 1984, the 8.3-acre vacant property formerly housed a string of restaurants for years.

“The hope would be (that) by investing in this neighborhood, this building and bringing it up, we will also improve the neighborhood. There are 10 other businesses on that route. If we start bringing people down that road, we are going to bring the other properties and values up ... we want to make it something to be admired, not to be ashamed of, and the neighborhood is already on the upswing,” Vernier said. “We have two major investors who’ve purchased all of those apartments, and they’ve literally put millions of dollars into them. We’ve got the permits — we know.”

The Collinsville-based Sean Turner Custom Homes took ownership of the majority of the properties, including 13 off of Biggs and Sierra drives last year, according to village officials. The other multifamily buildings that the village formerly condemned, about six, in the area of Sierra Drive were bought by Green Door Apartments from First Bank. A representative of either company could not be reached for comment.

The Red Barn currently has shattered windows, boarded entrances, extensive water and roof damage and black mold. Last year, the village accepted a proposal from local architect Gary Karasek, of U Studios Inc. based in Swansea, to transform the neglected property into a regional attraction for nearly half a million dollars in a letter dated on July 15, 2016.

The letter requested the board consider, “that the Barn be transformed into a Cultural Arts Center to host artists in residence, an art studio, artist incubator space, space for art exhibits and workshops, an area for dance, music and, perhaps, a gift shop and theater venue.”

In August 2016, the board reviewed Karasek’s proposal to make the hypothetical center into a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity with a $500,000 price tag to begin estimating the extent of the damage and the cost bring the three-story, 10,000-square-foot building up to par for the conceptualized venue.

“The question to me is ‘Do we want to bring this building to a useable condition, regardless of Gary’s project or not?’ ... but that means if we spend that kind of money, we’re kinda committed to doing something with it,” Burrelsman said.

The property continues to be a village money pit that board members are eager to put an end to, according to Weilmuenster.

“We were going to demolish it, then we were going to sell it before to the Shriner’s for $1, but that fell through. Now we’ve spent money on getting the information from Gary on what it’ll cost to do something with the building, but continuing to spend money without a funding source isn’t responsible,” Weilmuenster said. “We need to do something. I love the concept, but $400,000 is a lot of money. I’d like to see it torn down.”

O’Neil said he loves the idea of a metro-east attraction being in the heart of Shiloh in a unique building that needs refurbishing, but his opposing vote reflects his deep concern that Karasek has yet to acquire any funding for the project.

“I don’t see the income coming in yet. How are we going to pay for this? We’re going to be on the hook for the whole thing with no tenants, so until I get a feel for who is going to be in there, I’m not for it,” O’Neil said. “I’m totally for the concept. I think it’s a great idea, but I don’t think it’s in our best interest to go in blind with a loan instead of having some help from investors.”

Karasek said the $400,000 financial note from Commerce Bank includes cushion room in case the work ends up costing more than expected.

“It’s still very early in development, and ... I was hired to create a bid package to bring this building to an up-to-code shell, so to speak, with no mold and a roof that no longer leaks for the purpose of creating a safe environment. Then the second phase of this process is when we will determine usage and nail down tenants,” Karasek said.

He said that he already spoke with several artists, musicians, community theaters and even a dance company — all who are interested in the future of a the site.

“We hired him to come up with this and bid this out so we would find out what these costs are,” Vernier said. “It does bring the building up, it puts a roof on it, it brings the whole exterior up, and it can sit there for a year or whatever and it’ll be fine. We’re not going to get anybody to commit to going into the building until they know we are committed to even doing the building. So (if) we go this route, we can move to the next step to get people to sign on that they are committed to taking space into the building.”

Vernier said he understands the high cost involved in bringing the building up to code, but moving forward to open the bids is the next step the board needs to take.

“(Once) we get these tenants onboard, hopefully we have a viable operation; that’s certainly what we want, just like we do with our parks, like we do at our golf course, we have a viable operation — this is park funds, this is tourism funds that we’re going to propose to use on this building. And the bottom line is if the people who move in, in three or four years are not there then we still have a very solid, standard, all up to code building that is useable,” Vernier said.

Kurtz said Shiloh needs to acquire or build a new police station, which is going to strap the village with debt, especially if the village takes on this rehabilitation project too.

“I don’t see anything in front of me that tells me how this village can afford a $2 million police station, put a half a million dollars into this building, and not have a useable building and still be able to plan to make this building useable,” Kurtz said.

Vernier said the village would be able to use utility taxes for park and recreation endeavors because they are funneled into the tourism fund, which he hopes will increase soon with the opening of Memorial East Hospital last year.

“O’Fallon uses their tourism fund to build parks, and I propose we use our tourism fund to make the payments on this project. You know we cannot use those funds to build a police station. We will have to use regular general fund dollars for that. And yeah, we don’t have $2 million in the fund for a police station, we will have to borrow; we’re not going to be able to write a check,” Vernier said.

“And we’re going to be borrowing for that, borrowing for this, and we have to make certain we have the funds coming in to pay for all of this. We may be able to pay for the $400,000 out of the park fund, but this does not sound like a $400,000 building. This is going to continue to cost us,” Kurtz said.

In other business:

Three Springs Lake Trail additional design needed

Since the Oct. 24, 2016 committee at large meeting, action followed the bidding of the trail project awarding the contract to Lebanon-based Christ Brothers Asphalt Inc., but more design is needed. The board approved moving forward to undertake the additional storm water design. The project is funded by both village revenues and grant funds, which the latter expiring September 2017. Horner & Shifrin is the proposed company to handle the extra storm water design not to exceed $12,000.

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch