Editorials

Investing in the heart of downtown Belleville

Belleville OKs rental vouchers for Meredith Home

Aaron Burnett, president of the Bywater Development Group, said the city of Belleville's commitment to pay for $426,000 of rental vouchers will help "bring the revitalization of the Meredith Home to reality."
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Aaron Burnett, president of the Bywater Development Group, said the city of Belleville's commitment to pay for $426,000 of rental vouchers will help "bring the revitalization of the Meredith Home to reality."

Reservations about the viability of the Meredith Home on Belleville's Public Square remain, but they are weaker than they were a few years ago.

And you have to hand it to Mayor Mark Eckert and city leaders. They're close to pulling off a deal that may cost taxpayers a lot less than you'd imagine.

Belleville lawyer Bruce Cook donated $500,000 so the city could raze the Meredith Home and build a park in memory of his daughter. The city bought the building for $487,500, but then decided to try to save the art deco building that is seeking a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. They gave Cook back his money.

There's $487,500 in cost.

The building needed a new roof, for which the city paid $120,000. Total cost: $607,500.

But then we have some subtraction. The Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group will pay the city $600,000 for the building so they can turn it into senior apartments and retail space.

Taxpayer liability: $7,500.

Add back in $426,000 in rental vouchers that Belleville city leaders just agreed to fund over a decade. The move is intended to significantly boost the project's odds as it competes for $8 million in low-income housing tax credits and a $1 million loan from the state. Caution: the sale is off if they don't get the tax credits. The rent vouchers can earn the project the single-largest chunk of points in the competition for the tax credits.

City leaders are hoping federal rent help can be obtained through St. Clair County to decrease that $426,000. But city pocket or federal pocket, it all comes out of your pocket.

In the revenue column, the sale will mark the first time since at least 1962 that the building will be on the property tax rolls. It opened in 1931 as Hotel Belleville. It became tax exempt starting in 1962 as the Catholic diocese-run Meredith Home for seniors, and since 2010 was tax exempt as city property.

They estimate $30,000 a year in property tax revenue.

But who gets it? The property is in a tax increment financing district, so that cash may all go to the city.

So $42,600 a year liability for rental assistance, minus $30,000 a year in property taxes.

Building cost: $7,500. Liability per year for a decade: $12,600.

It's a lot less pain than $3 million in sewers, $1 million for agri-tourism or $20 million for Walmart.

It also will get Belleville residents most of the way out of the development business. That is, assuming developers get the tax credits and the sale goes through.

Parking remains a challenge, but the developers said their experience is that they need parking for one-third of the tenants. That is 16 spaces for the 47 units they plan for the Lofts on the Square, but they said it may be fewer because of the mass transit opportunities. They said parking is less critical to their application than first indicated.

In any case, putting at least 47 new residents in downtown Belleville is a plus. Those residents will shop, dine and help the area to become more vibrant.

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