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Committee backs TIF funds for Depot project

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

A local family hoping to bring back a popular downtown Vandalia restaurant and bar took another step toward that goal on Tuesday.

John Truitt Jr. of Shobonier heads a family group that wants to purchase The Depot property and rebuild the business that was gutted by fire close to two years ago.

On Tuesday, Truitt received the backing of city officials and members of the city’s Tax Increment Financing in his attempt to use TIF monies for The Depot project.

Joining Truitt in the venture are his parents, John Sr. and Marilyn Truitt of Shobonier, and Mary Truitt of Vandalia.

“It’s a project that I’m very excited about and, based on my conservations with (local residents), it’s something that the community is also excited about,” John Truitt Jr. told the TIF Committee and city officials on Tuesday.

“It’s just a huge part of Vandalia,” he said about rebuilding the business that was burned out by a fire in the early morning hours of Labor Day in 2007.

The Truitts’ plan is to purchase the property that houses the building, and adjacent parking areas, from Deb and Denny Hamel of Vandalia, and complete the work necessary to get the building operational again. They estimate the project cost at $425,000.

After the 2007 fire, Deb Hamel asked the city for TIF funds to help pay for the cleanup of the building. The city council turned down that request, with aldermen saying that they would not OK those funds without assurances that the Hamels would reopen the business.

John Truitt Jr. told TIF committee members that the TIF funds were needed to help secure a bank loan for the project. The Truitts have already received a 5-percent, $21,250 loan from Fayette County’s revolving loan fund, and are also using personal equity for the project.

In their TIF application, the Truitt have asked for a $21,250 grant, as well as 70 percent of the new property tax monies created over the next 10 years as a result of their improvements to the property.

The city, according to Director of Economic Development and Tourism JoAnn Givens said, is proposing that the Truitts receive a $7,500 grant and a 5-percent, $13,750 loan.

Givens said the city doesn’t currently have sufficient funds in its TIF fund for the loan at this time, so it will temporarily transfer monies from its general fund.

The two TIF committee members present for the meeting, Sandy Michel and Joanna Helm, both supported the Truitts’ TIF application, as did Givens and Mayor Rick Gottman. Michel said another committee member, Doug Knebel, had told her that he also supports the Truitts’ plan.

Because the TIF committee is not a formal city committee, a quorum is not required for a recommendation.

“I think it’s a great project,” Michel said. “We really need it.”

Helm added, “I think it’s definitely a benefit (to the community).”

The recommendation goes to the city council, which will likely vote on the Truitts’ application at its July 20 meeting.

John Truitt Jr. said he plans to get workers going on the project in the very near future, and that he’s hoping to have the business open by early next year. He said that he plans to start out with four full-time employees, and have eight full-time and eight part-time employees by early next year.

Truitt said the initial phase of the rebuilding project will include a roof over the entire structure and finishing the original train depot building. The family plans to finish the banquet room facilities on the southwest side of the building when finances allow.