Former Belleville Hotel Building Was Derelict A Year Ago — Now It’s Home Sweet Home
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
BELLEVILLE — The latest reincarnation of a 90-year-old historic landmark in the city’s downtown is complete.
Senior citizens are starting to move into an apartment complex known as Lofts on the Square. It occupies a six-story building that began as Hotel Belleville and later served as Meredith Memorial Home, a retirement facility operated by the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.
“Have you ever seen ‘The Shining?”” asked Robert Butcher, 82, one of the first tenants to move in this week. “Look down this hallway. You can just picture the twins riding their tricycles.”
Butcher was referring to the 1980 classic horror movie set in a haunted hotel. He pointed out that he’s a twin and his daughters, Rhonda Grove and Shonda Butcher, are twins.
The two women were helping their dad move on Thursday, pulling his belongings in a utility cart down the black-and-white checkerboard tile floor of the fifth-floor hallway.
Robert Butcher has been living with Grove since he sold his Belleville home seven years ago. He’s ready to strike out on his own again, and Lofts on the Square seems like the perfect place.
“I like the idea of not so many people being here,” said Butcher, a retiree who worked 35 years at Olin Corp.’s ammunition factory in East Alton. “Some of these buildings have hundreds of people. This has 47 units. That’s good.”
$14.2 million renovation
The massive brick building at 16 S. Illinois St. has undergone a $14.2 million renovation by Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group in the past year. That was made possible by historic and affordable-housing tax credits and government loans.
Tenants must be 55 or older with incomes at or below 60 percent of the region’s median.
Robert Butcher’s daughters give the complex rave reviews.
“I didn’t want to send him off to a regular apartment building,” said Grove, 46, of Belleville. “This is all senior living. I like the security and the amenities. They’re going to have a gym, a library, a computer lab, a laundry facility and internal storage.”
“It’s awesome,” added Shonda Butcher, of Millstadt. “It’s like stepping back in time. It just has this energy about it.”
Lofts on the Square is being managed by St. Louis-based Sugar Creek Realty. Applications are being accepted for efficiency apartments ($550 a month, including water, sewer and trash), one-bedrooms ($615) and two-bedrooms ($750).
“We’ve leased eight units, and we’ve approved applications on 22, so those folks are still going through the lease-signing process,” said Destini Lednicky, SWIDA’s housing director. “That leaves 17 units available.”
A formal ribbon-cutting is planned for October.
Developers are hoping to attract a commercial tenant for a 3,000-square-foot storefront space on the first floor of the building. It could be a restaurant, grocery, retail store or offices.
“Any ideas would be greatly appreciated,” said Mike Lundy, SWIDA’s executive director and former city of Belleville treasurer.
Built during great depression
Hotel Belleville was constructed in 1931 on the southeast corner of the city’s Public Square.
The building was converted into Meredith Memorial Home in the early 1960s. It closed in 2010 and faced possible demolition before SWIDA and Bywater bought it from the city of Belleville.
“There was mold going up the walls,” he said Thursday. “There was peeling paint and wallpaper. It looked like a bomb went off in here.”
The project received $5.2 million in state and federal historic tax credits and $930,000 in state affordable-housing tax credits, generating $12.5 million in equity investments from PNC Bank. Another $1.5 million in state and SWIDA housing loans rounded out the funding.
The art-deco-style building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. That designation required developers to preserve many of its original architectural features under tax-credit-program rules.
One of the finishing touches was installing custom-made apartment doors that meet fire codes and other regulations but also fit in with the historic hotel-room doors with brass knobs, which were left in place to line hallways despite their non-functionality.
“This used to be a 90-bed hotel,” Lundy said. “You couldn’t get a couple of St. Louis Rams players in a room. They were pretty small.”
Party room with kitchen
The renovated two-story lobby of Lofts on the Square has white walls with ornate navy trim and art-deco-style chandeliers shaped like flowers. Contractors were able to save the black, gray and ivory terrazzo floor by stripping off grime and re-waxing it.
Wooden shelves line a corner for a mini-library. An arched doorway leads to a computer lab. Around the corner, a community room with a full kitchen can be used by residents who want to throw parties.
Lundy is proud of the outcome.
“You’ve saved a 90-year-old building that is a classic in the downtown area,” he said. “Just to have it be torn down or used for ... Well, it was made to be a hotel, so it could be converted into apartments, but what else was it going to be used for other than that?”
Tenant Robert Butcher seems excited about his new home, an efficiency apartment that overlooks St. Clair County Courthouse with a view of its giant American flag and dual fountains.
Butcher is following a Western theme with his decor. He was an avid horseman in his younger years and learned to ride bareback as a boy because saddles were so expensive.
Even contractors doing last-minute repairs on Thursday commented on the charm of the old hotel building.
“I think my favorite part is the basement,” said Jacob Albers, an electrician with Guarantee Electrical. “That has the most history. They left the old boilers. It’s pretty neat.”
People interested in renting apartments or getting more information about Lofts on the Square should call contact Sugar Creek Realty at 314-561-6832 email@example.com.
Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.