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Belleville to make final payment on $975,000 in incentives for Eckert’s expansion

The front of Eckert's Country Store and Farm pictured on a sunny day.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Eckert’s Country Store and Farm is at 951 S. Green Mount Road in Belleville. In 2010, it embarked on a multi-million-dollar expansion that included a new retail store and larger restaurant.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Belleville City Council is abolishing a special business district and a tax-increment-financing district established 13 years ago to help fund an expansion at the Belleville location of Eckert’s Country Store and Farms.

That’s because the revenue generated and savings realized by the two redevelopment tools is expected to reach $975,000 by mid-year, according to Belleville Finance Director Jamie Maitret. That’s the maximum in incentives allowed under a 2010 agreement with the city.

The most immediate and direct impact on local residents will be a 1% sales-tax reduction in the business district, located at the northwest corner of Illinois 15 and Green Mount Road.

“Starting July 1, if you purchase something at the Eckert’s store or you eat at the Eckert’s restaurant, instead of paying 9.1%, it will be 8.1% like the rest of the city,” Maitret said.

The additional 1% sales tax has never applied to peaches, apples or other perishable food items.

The elimination of the Eckert’s TIF district also could lead to increases in annual property-tax revenue for schools, the fire department, library and other local taxing districts.

The development agreement between the city and Eckert’s had allowed for the business district and TIF district to stay in place for 23 years to reach the $975,000 maximum in incentives, but that ended up happening about 10 years early, according to Maitret.

“They anticipated a payout over 23 years, and the sales-tax and TIF revenues paid it off in not quite 13 years, so that’s all the better,” she said. “The TIF and the business district served their purpose.”

Eckert’s President Chris Eckert, Vice President of Retail Operations Angie Eckert and Marketing Director Amanda Morgan didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

In 2009, Eckert’s was planning a $5.5 million expansion, including a new 18,000-square-feet retail store and enlarged restaurant. City officials entered into the agreement, which doubled as an incentive package, after concluding that the project would benefit the community.

“It’s something for the future of the city that we’re investing in,” former Ward 3 Rob Anderson said at the time.

Chris Eckert had told officials that the pick-your-own farm’s Belleville facilities could no longer support its growing customer base, noting more than 400,000 people were visiting each year.

Eckert’s estimated that the expansion would result in a 60% increase in its full-time workforce.

The creation of special business districts allows revenue from temporary sales-tax increases to be set aside and used to fund city incentives for private development projects.

The creation of tax-increment-financing districts temporarily freezes property-tax values in “blighted, declining and underperforming” areas in Illinois. This keeps businesses from having to pay higher property taxes that would normally result from improvements.

Later this year, when figures are finalized in the Eckert’s case, officials expect that the $975,000 in incentives will consist of $499,357.22 in sales-tax revenue from the business district and $475,642.78 in property-tax savings from the TIF district, according to Maitret.

In 2022, Eckert’s opened the Cider Shed, an outdoor dining pavilion with a bar, concert stage and restrooms.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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