By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The city of Belleville has been using tax increment financing effectively for more than 30 years. Its latest district is the $100 million development on Illinois Route 15 across from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. That development will include a Hofbrauhaus, a hotel, restaurant, convention center and sports complex. The city is using a combination of TIF with a business district sales tax to make the project possible.
“When I got on the City Council in 1997,” Mayor Mark Eckert said, “I learned pretty quickly that TIF was one of the few tools we had in the toolbox. Our downtown was pretty desolate. We had lost our retail to the mall and our car dealerships to the interstate. When I became mayor 11 years ago we determined to save our downtown and spent TIF money on the downtown streetscapes. We created an atmosphere that we were very hopeful would help us to fill in the empty buildings. It did just what we thought.”
Belleville also used TIF to help attract and encourage the reutilization of the abandoned Belleville West High School by Lindenwood University. With the city’s assistance, Lindenwood has seen great success and has been adding dormitories and off-campus housing.
“The Lindenwood story is just continuing to unfold with more and more growth and more and more students and more and more faculty here in town,” Eckert said. What they’ve done with the property is just a fabulous new beginning for the central corridor of Belleville.”
Eckert said that most of Belleville’s recent TIF districts have been project driven—limited in scope; created to enable a specific project; and rebating funds to the developer if and when they are generated.
Often times school districts oppose the creation of TIF districts and relations between the city council and school board can get rocky. That hasn’t been the case in Belleville, said Eckert. Belleville has always made it a point to be very fair with its school districts, he said. That’s important, added Eckert, because TIF has been vital to rejuvenating the city.
“I don’t know where Belleville would be if it was not for the TIF tool in the toolbox,” Eckert said. “TIF has not only helped us grow, but it really saved Belleville. I believe it’s been a tool that we’ve been able to use that’s allowed us to turn around one of the older cities in Southwestern Illinois from what could have been deterioration and decline to a city that people and businesses want to move to today.”