O’Fallon is making an aggressive and competitive push to land Amazon’s second headquarters at the Mid America Commerce Center, which is more than 1,500 acres north of Scott Air Force Base near Interstate 64, between the Illinois Route 158 and U.S. Highway 50 exit and the new Reider Road exit.
Mayor Herb Roach reported at Monday’s council meeting that the city was “going after it.”
“We have a lot of assets to show off,” he said.
Amazon, the online commerce giant, announced on Sept. 7 that it was soliciting requests for proposals to locate a new facility in North America, dubbed HQ2. It would be equal in size to its Seattle headquarters, and they expect to spend at least $5 billion on buildings and employ as many as 50,000 people. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 19.
Amazon said it was seeking a metro area of more than a million in population, “a stable and business-friendly environment,” with the potential to “attract and retain strong technical talent.”
The company, founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, said it is looking for communities that “think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”
At least 101 cities, states, provinces and counties in the U.S. and Canada are attempting to lure Amazon, according to the Chicago Tribune on Sept. 15.
The mayor thinks the location near interstates is a selling point, its proximity to St. Louis will be able to attract a large workforce, and O’Fallon’s amenities are attractive to those looking at quality of life.
Last year, Amazon opened two fulfillment centers in Edwardsville. One warehouse handles larger items, such as big-screen televisions and sports equipment, while the other specializes in smaller items, such as books, toys and electronics. Each warehouse is 700,000 square feet and about 1,500 people work at both.
The Mid America Commerce Center was in the running for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters, but a site in north St. Louis was selected last year for the proposed $1.75 billion project.
“Hopefully, this won’t be as political as the last one,” Roach said.
“Someone said if you don’t put a hook in the water, you won’t catch anything.”
The mayor devoted his weekly column to the Amazon proposal. (See page 3A.)
Ball fields approved
Plans will proceed for a full-size baseball field, but awarding a bid on a multi-use softball field proposal hinges on a grant award, which won’t be announced until October for the Family Sports Park, part of the Destination O’Fallon economic initiative. The total cost for both is more than $1.8 million.
The O’Fallon City Council approved awarding the base bid of $1,354,900 to Byrne & Jones, the sole bidder, for the baseball field and an alternate, and the softball field pending on the grant announcement, in an 11-3 vote.
Aldermen Robert Kueker, Mark Morton and Dan Witt voted against the expenditure.
“I don’t see a clear need for this size baseball field,” Kueker said.
Morton said he thought the money could be used instead for more pressing needs in the city, such as improvements in streets, water system and the sewer system. Hedid not think the previous council had enough time this spring to research the $1 million transfer to the park fund for this expense.
Alderman Matthew Gilreath said he looked at this as an economic development plan and noted the families who come travel here for tournaments will spend money for lodging and meals in O’Fallon.
The council’s Parks and Environment Committee recommended moving forward but waiting on word about the grant funding before making a softball field decision. The grant would be for $300,000, and that is factored in to the $475,000 budget. Both fields will be used for soccer games in the fall.
If two alternate bids are not awarded, then the budget will be reduced by $475,000.
With winter approaching, Byrne & Jones wanted to start construction on the baseball field and wait on word about the grant for the softball field.
Water rate freeze approved
In other action, O’Fallon water customers won’t see rates increase for one year, as the city council approved a year-long freeze.
The issue was not without debate. Aldermen Jerry Albrecht and Courtney Marsh expressed concerns, with Albrecht and Morton voting no on rescinding ordinance regarding water rates, and replacing it with the freeze. Albrecht and Marsh voted no rescinding the ordinance about the sewer service and wastewater rates, and replacing it with the freeze.
Aldermen Albrecht and Marsh emphasized the points they made at the last city council meeting, that residents would get a break now, but ultimately pay later.
Alderman Ross Rosenberg said he had some concerns too, but when Jeff Taylor, the director of public works, said the city has enough funds for emergencies.
“I just hope we don’t live to regret it,” Rosenberg said.
Mayor Herb Roach said the money in the reserves for water and sewer can’t be used for any other project.
Alderman Gilreath said he thought the sewer rates were still too high and wants to look at lowering them.
“I don’t think this goes far enough,” he said.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story, and the one in print, mistakenly said Alderman Mark Morton expressed concerns over the freeze. He did not. He was in favor of it. “I’m in favor of providing relief for our citizens through a freeze on rates while we evaluate the investments needed to the water and sewer system,” he said. The Progress regrets the error.)
A moment of silence was observed for Dennis Blumberg, a resident and veteran home builder who died on Sept. 11 at age 62. He owned Huntington Chase Homes, and built many subdivisions in O’Fallon, including Park Bridge Station, Windsor Creek, The Reserves of Timber Ridge, Hampton Glen, Milburn Estates and the Parcs of Arbor Green.
“He was a very good family man, a good friend to many of us, and a great ambassador for this city,” Roach said.
The council approved the Mutual Aid Agreement with Shiloh, Fairview Heights and Mascoutah police departments.
The council also approved security upgrades and renovations of the council chambers and front lobby of city hall, by Trivers Associates, for $67,250.
The council also moved forward several housing developments. The council approved preliminary plat for Park Bridge Station, which is 33.40 acres, and final plat for Reserves of Timber Ridge Phase 2C. They also OK’d the re-subdivision of Outlet B of Chesapeake Junction-Phase I.