Council hesitant to give TIF funds for The Depot project

The Vandalia City Council on Monday night chose not to take action on recommendations sent to them by two of the citys advisory committees.

The council first held off on granting a request for Tax Increment Financing funds for cleanup and demolition work on the burned remains of The Depot.

It then, later in the meeting, chose not to act on the Downtown Advisory Committees recommendations for the downtown streetscape project.

The council hedged on Deb Hamels request for $25,000 in TIF funds, with aldermen who spoke on the issue saying they want more of an assurance that The Depot will be rebuilt.

Hamel, who told the TIF Committee she plans to retire in June 2008, would like to use the $25,000 in conjunction with $35,000 in insurance money to clean up the burned structure.

Once the structure is cleaned up, she told the committee, her sons, Luke and Michael Mabry, would decide on which of four options to choose as they take over the business.

Those options include:

Rebuilding the structure as it was before the Labor Day fire.

Rebuilding a scaled-back version of the former building.

Renovating the original train depot part of the building, with an attempt to retain the historical aspect of the building as much as possible, and leasing it out as retail space.

Complete removal of the debris and walls, and selling the property.

Hamel told the TIF committee that reconstruction costs cannot be determined until the debris is cleaned up, and that decisions after that point would be made by her sons.

But, she said, the family cannot see going back into debt to bring back the establishment without any assistance from the city, according to the minutes from the TIF Committee.

Michael Mabry told the council that the cost to clean up the debris increases from $35,000 to about $60,000 when special measures have to be taken to preserve the walls and other parts of the structure that could possibly be used as part of reconstruction.

Aldermen speaking on the issue acknowledged that The Depot was an important business in the community, hosting numerous meetings and drawing people from other towns.

However, they expressed concern about the family choosing not to rebuild after it receives funds for cleanup from the city.

Mabry said that the city assistance is important in the cleanup aspect, and that the family also would plan to seek TIF funds during the rebuilding phase.

Vandalia Director of Economic Development and Tourism JoAnn Givens explained that whats unique about this project is that The Depot project involves more than one party. She noted that Hamel is only involved in cleaning up the property, while her sons would be involved in any rebuilding plans.

But several aldermen were outspoken about whether the city should give Hamel and her sons any TIF money unless the family commits to rebuilding.

Personally, I dont have anything against this, being that its not payable until next year, but I would like to wait until we see the building going back up as a business before theres any payment made, said Alderman Mike Hobler, referring to the fact that if the request is approved, the TIF funds wouldnt be distributed until 2008.

Those funds would be delayed because the city has already obligated this years TIF funds to other local projects.

Hobler said hes hesitant to award the funds, because, The only reason for this money is so they can save as much as possible to rebuild.

Michael Mabry, who estimated that The Depots average annual payroll was about $300,000, said the decision to rebuild is contingent upon this $25,000.

He then said that other factors enter into the decision to rebuild, and then added that his family would likely make other requests in the future.

We would like to see some other TIF monies along the way, as well, to make the whole project feasible, Mabry said.

Alderman Bret Brosman said, The Depot had been a major asset to our community. Weve all been to functions there, we know it brought people in from other towns.

But, unfortunately, with the fire and Debbie (Hamel) going out of it, I dont think The Depot will ever be The Depot (again). It would be something new, and, hopefully, improved, he said.

But it looks to me like, right now, were being asked to endorse a check for $30,000 made out to the city (from the Hamels insurance company) and to write a check for $25,000, and all were being promised is that they will take a very unsightly lot and hold off on a bunch of stuff outside of shoring (up) the walls.

There is nothing to keep the weather out, so I cant imagine the floor system remaining viable for a long time without a roof over it, Brosman said.

Alderman Larry Cable added, Id feel more comfortable if we knew they were going to rebuild.

Alderman Chad Feldpouch agreed. There are too many unknowns here.

I think we would be getting into the practice, basically, of, Youre either going to pay us or were going to walk, and I dont know that I want to get in that position.

While saying that he agrees that The Depot has been important to the community, Nobody knows if it will ever be there again. Were taking a chance.

If they want us to vote on it like that, Id have to say Im a No vote, Feldpouch said.

Also on Monday, the council after meeting in closed session for about 35 minutes failed to take action on a recommendation from the citys Downtown Advisory Committee.

We defer on any action at this time, said Brosman, chairman of the councils streets and sewers committee.

He was referring to the recommendation formed last week by the advisory committee on proposed streetscape and infrastructure improvements along Gallatin Street downtown.

That committee is recommending that the streetscape and infrastructure work be bid separately.

It is also recommending that the streetscape work which includes new sidewalks with brick edging and insets, period street lighting, flowering dogwood trees and the relocation of utility lines underground be scaled back.

The plans currently call for those improvements along Gallatin from Third Street to Eighth Street. The committee is leaning toward knocking one or two blocks at the west end of the project.

Gottman said Tuesday that due to the fact that no action was taken on Monday, the matter remains in the hands of the streets and sewers committee. It is up to that committee whether or not it goes before the full council in the future.

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