Land Purchase Paves Way for Large Retail Project in Fairview Heights, Ill.

Dec. 1--FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS -- After weeks of speculation that the deal was falling apart, the sale of the site of the St. Albert the Great church and school closed Wednesday.

Real estate broker Terry Johnson, of Johnson Properties, Inc., said the $8.25 million purchase by St. Clair Square owner CBL and Associates Properties paves the way for work to start on the long-awaited Shoppes at St. Clair.

"They're going to begin asbestos removal immediately, which will take about six weeks," Johnson said. "Demolition of the church will happen right after that, then they'll be ready to go with construction."

Several snags slowed the mall expansion project, which will be a collection of 15 high-end stores in ornate buildings surrounded by swanky landscaping. But the lure of putting a new retail development at the corner of Illinois 159 and Highway 50 -- the busiest intersection in St. Clair County -- was too attractive to pass up.

"There are always obstacles to overcome whenever you're putting together a big project like this," said Deborah Gibb, spokesman for CBL. "But we were always confident that we would get it done, and we are appreciative of all the work the city of Fairview Heights has done to make it happen."

Mayor Gail Mitchell said he got worried that finances might put a stop to the 75,000-square-foot project over the summer months.

"It was my understanding that (CBL) had about $800,000 in cost overruns that were threatening the project," Mitchell said. "They came back to the city and asked us if there was anything else we could do to help them, and I told them that we had helped as much as we could afford by setting up a tax increment finance district for them."

CBL also tried to cut costs by asking church leaders to lower the price of the land, Johnson said, but they refused.

While the financial haggling was going on, rumors surfaced that the family that donated the land for the church in the 1960s stipulated that it could never be sold for commercial development. Although the claim stirred up the parties involved in the sale, research turned up no such restrictions in the title.

"I'm so glad it's finally over," said Mark Kurtz, a member of Holy Trinity's board of directors. "It's been a nightmare for the last three months."

St. Albert was merged with Our Lady of the Assumption to form Holy Trinity Church. Delays in the sale forced Holy Trinity to put on hold its plans to build a new $16 million church and school near the Fountains of Fairview, Kurtz said.

The Shoppes at St. Clair is expected to open in spring 2007. The fancy stores will be connected by an outdoor courtyard, a setup Gibb said is known as a "lifestyle center."

"We're excited about the concept," Gibb said. "It's a hot trend across the country, a place where people can relax and do their shopping at the same time."

Holy Trinity is currently holding school and church services at the former Our Lady of the Assumption campus in western Fairview Heights. It is hoped that the new school and church will be open by the start of the 2007-2008 school year.

"The old church could seat 800 people, while the new one will seat 1,000 comfortably," Kurtz said. "And we will have space for athletic fields at the school, which is something we don't have now."