DANVILLE — Taxpayer costs associated with the planned retail development on North Vermilion Street continue to increase as the city will be spending more than $150,000 to relocate the Lowe's entrance to accommodate traffic to the Meijer store that will be built across the street.
The city already purchased the former K's Merchandise site for $825,000 and deeded it, for $1, to the developer of a Kohl's store and T.J. Maxx store as part of an incentive package that was not to exceed $2 million. Now, the city is spending $150,000 to buy the property at 3628 N. Vermilion St., which is immediately south of the Lowe's entrance, so the Lowe's entrance can be moved south to better accommodate the increase in traffic from the planned development that now includes a Meijer store.
The property south of Lowe's is owned by Glen Martin of Danville. Martin bought the property, which was formerly Forshier Realty, in 2009 for $55,000, according to Vermilion County warranty deed documents.
After the property purchase is final and the business tenant has time to relocate, Public Works Director Doug Ahrens said most likely city crews will be the ones to demolish the building on the property, which currently houses the business tenant, Classy Critters. Ahrens said he does not expect asbestos to be present in the building, so he estimates the demolition to cost the city $10,000 to $15,000. The city will hire a contractor to build the new entrance once the site is cleared, and the cost of that will depend on proposals or bids the city receives from contractors.
Once the work is complete, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said the city will then deed the property over to Lowe's at no cost to the home improvement chain.
To accommodate the increase in traffic expected once the Kohl's, T.J. Maxx and Meijer stores are built, Illinois Department of Transportation officials are requiring that the Lowe's and Tractor Supply entrances be aligned to reduce the risk of conflicts between left-turning vehicles in the center lane. The Tractor Supply entrance will also be used to access Meijer. Otherwise, the state would require the city to put a raised concrete median in the middle of North Vermilion, which would make the Tractor Supply and Lowe's entrances inaccessible from left-turning vehicles. City officials prefer that both northbound and southbound traffic be able to access both entrances.
Alderman Bill Black, Ward 7, voted against the city's purchase of Martin's property, because he would have liked an appraisal of the property first. Eisenhauer said the city normally seeks appraisals in property purchases, but not this time, because the property owner was very set on a price.
"So the appraised value was of little use to us since the property owner was explicit and steadfast on the amount he was willing to accept," Eisenhauer said.
Eisenhauer said the owner made improvements to the interior of the building and infrastructure changes to the property, and Martin had a business tenant, so he will be losing a revenue generating source. That all had to be factored into the negotiations on price, according to Eisenhauer.
He said there is a tight time frame on the project, too, so the city needed to move quickly to make traffic-flow changes in order to meet the time frame that each of the stores has along North Vermilion Street. And, he said spending money to get an appraisal would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"Simply because the property owner had a steadfast dollar amount that he was seeking," Eisenhauer added.
Black said governments also have the option of using eminent domain, which is the power to take private property for public use. But Eisenhauer said the city would have to prove that securing Martin's property was purely in the interest of the public, and some could argue there's a private purpose behind this purchase. Plus, Eisenhauer said, it was a matter of timing.
Pursuing eminent domain would be "an incredibly long" and costly legal process, he said, and the city did not have that kind of time, considering the time line of the retailers.
"So, at the end of the day, what we offered was not out of line for what we have spent on other properties along North Vermilion Street, and not out of line considering the loss of a revenue-generating tenant that results in a loss of income, and in recognizing the value of this project as a whole and the amount of dollars we (city) stand to generate through these retail opportunities," he said, adding that for those reasons, city officials believe it's a fair purchase.