STAR bonds on hold while local officials commission economic impact study

Steve Korris Jan. 26, 2010, 1:36am


BELLEVILLE – Developers of the proposed University Town Center in Glen Carbon gave city and county officials 60 days to study its economic impact.

At a Jan. 22 meeting in St. Clair County courthouse, developers agreed not to advance state legislation for the mall while cities and counties await an impact study.

"The process has been slowed down," State Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon said.

Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier said, "We were successful in holding the issue off for 60 days."

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said cities and counties would pay for a study on how the proposal affects the region.

McCarter said, "It will be an independent study. The developer has nothing to do with this."

The development group includes John Costello, son of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.

Last year the group secured passage of a bill diverting the mall's sales tax receipts, at least $15 million a year, from the state treasury to the mall.

State Revenue Director Brian Hamer opposed the bill.

He predicted cannibalization, warning that the mall wouldn't create new sales but would only capture sales from other stores.

He supplied evidence that in six years, a similar mall near Kansas City wiped out a third of Kansas furniture stores within 150 miles.

Gov. Pat Quinn heeded Hamer's advice halfway, signing an amendatory veto that would have split sales taxes between the state and the mall.

That didn't satisfy the developers, who let the bill die.

After they introduced a similar bill this year, city and county officials started worrying.

These public officials, who arranged to meet with developers in a public building on the proper use of public funds, excluded the public.

On the fifth floor of the courthouse, a woman who said she was with University Town Center guarded the entrance to the meeting and chased away visitors.

A wall near her displayed a "freedom shrine" of documents, from the Mayflower Compact to General McAuliffe's "Nuts" message from Bastogne.

A citizen who doubted the woman's authority to decide who could listen to the meeting accompanied Dunstan to the entrance.

Dunstan said there were many provisions of law allowing a private meeting.

He summarized the meeting after he ended, though he defended privacy.

"Nobody has a quorum here," he said. "Meetings with developers are private."

"You do this all the time," he said.

Vernier said he thought the meeting should have been public.

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State Senator Kyle McCarter
310 W Gallatin St
Vandalia, IL 62471-2821

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