Guest view: Aldermen need more details before Shrine project should move forward

To build or not to build? That is the question regarding the proposed Shrine development project. On one hand, we have a potential development that may induce further growth in the Illinois 15 corridor. On the other hand, there is the developer’s requirement for TIF and other considerations in return for a $50 million investment.

On the positive side, the city would receive various taxes from an area that has not been on the tax rolls. The potential exists for Belleville to acquire up to five new restaurants. One of the restaurants would be a Hofbrauhaus. Two hotels, no names at this time, and a convention center would adjoin the restaurants. There would also be a fueling station, along with a fast food and convenience store, near the entrance to the project. All of these would bring much-needed employment opportunities.

The developers would be responsible for the site preparation as well as construction costs. The city would incur expenses for consultation fees associated with the creation of a new TIF, a business district, enterprise zone and extending city sewers to the project area. The developers would not begin to recoup their investment until the project becomes operational and taxes are paid.

There are negative implications associated with the proposal. We are accepting as a matter of faith that the project will attract the unnamed restaurants and hotels. Even if the project goes as planned, will it be a success? Is the city giving away too much in incentives? Are the developers reliable and have they been properly vetted?

Where are we in the process? The City Council has, so far, approved the concept and procedural issues to allow the Shrine development plan to continue. The developers have stated that the project will not be completed without the city’s approval of the incentives. While we are traveling down that road we have not reached the endpoint. According to the schedule of events prepared by the Economic Development Department, the final ordinances required to adopt the incentives will not come before the City Council until May 26 at a special council meeting. If they do not pass, the project will not happen.

So far, I have been a supporter of the project and I have voted to let it continue. I, along with other aldermen, have reservations that I expect to be addressed prior to the final steps to continue my support. I would expect to have more details on the restaurants and hotels, including the names of at least two of the unnamed restaurants and both of the hotels. I would expect the developers to address aldermen’s concerns regarding financing and remediation of flooding and possible mine subsidence as project planning proceeds and prior to final approval by the City Council.

It is essential to engage the director of economic development to “sell” the convention center, associated businesses and attract visitors/customers.

I remain cautiously optimistic about this project but I will need more complete information prior to my final vote. I encourage the residents of Belleville to make their opinions known to their aldermen.