|By Linda N. Weller, The Telegraph, Alton,
Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 25, 2013--ALTON -- The city soon will seek letters of interest from developers to determine who might be serious about building a hotel and convention center at the former Great Central Lumber site.
"We are formalizing the process of selecting a developer's interest in the site," said Phil Roggio, Alton director of development and housing. "(The letters) would be submitted by private entities for review. It is an initial step to gauge interest at the site. A couple developers approached us in the last few months; we've been having discussions with the entities in the past nine to 12 months. Next thing we need is the City Council's 'Yes, let's do this,' and get the documentation out on the street."
At Wednesday night's City Council meeting, 1st Ward Alderman Jim Ryan referred the resolution to the Committee of the Whole for recommendation votes, so as to get the process started. Ryan also referred a resolution that indirectly relates to a future hotel, allowing a firm to create attractive "way-finding signage" along Landmarks Boulevard and Downtown.
The resolution directly related to the lumber yard site authorizes the mayor to solicit letters of interest/request for qualifications for joint redevelopment of the site.
The next committee meeting is Feb. 11, at which both resolutions will come up for recommendation votes.
Roggio stressed that aldermen approving the resolution only is a preliminary step.
He said the project likely could cost between $18 million and $25 million, with 18,000 to 25,000 square feet and 110 to 120 rooms in the hotel.
"The conference center would accommodate a crowd of 500 to 600 people in a dinner setting, with breakout rooms," Roggio said about the city's goal. "It is all preliminary; no architectural work has been done."
For at least a decade, Mayor Tom Hoechst and prior Mayor Don Sandidge have said Alton needs a conference center and hotel. The lumber site at Landmarks Boulevard and Henry Street was a prime location because of its proximity to the riverfront, marina, Clark Bridge, Downtown and busy Landmarks.
For years, Great Central's owner, Millman Lumber Co., was unwilling to sell the property, until it closed the business March 9, 2009. Following negotiations, in 2010 Alton purchased the 5.18-acre property, 81 Henry St., and the adjacent, 1.88-acre parcel that was held in a bank trust for $1.3 million. The city used money from its Riverfront Tax Increment Financing District fund to buy the properties.
The city had to meet with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Wood River Levee and Drainage District regarding how Alton would proceed with developing the properties, in light of flooding issues. The result was that part of the combined site only could be used for parking because of it being in the flood plain, Roggio said in 2010.
City officials also had to make sure a development at the site would be insurable.
The city then had Environmental Operations Inc. of St. Louis assess the most cost-efficient means to remove the buildings, locate buyers for the intact garages, and find scrap and salvage buyers for the materials. The city received proceeds from those sales, and the structures were demolished.
Engineers Heneghan and Associates PC of Godfrey conducted a boundary and topographical survey in preparation for the city to market the site.
Related to the general geographical area of Great Central and beyond, the proposed agreement with PGAV is to beautify and promote features in the Landmarks-Downtown corridor through coordinated signage. The planners first will survey existing signs and mark their locations on a map, then develop an initial concept design for future signs, including styles, scales, materials, color schemes and hierarchy.
The planners would use the "Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway Interpretive Plan" and the "Alton Streetscape Design Manual" as references, the proposed contract says. After meeting with city staff, PGAV will choose a "preferred concept" and refine up to eight of those designs for vehicles and pedestrians.
The Alton Lakefront Advisory Committee will hold public meetings for citizen input during the process.
The city will split the $15,000 cost -- plus reimbursable expenses -- of that work with the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. Alton's half of the expense will come from its Riverfront TIF District fund.
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