La Salle votes 5-4 against bidding on Interstate 80 property

Property to be auctioned Dec. 12

La Salle City Hall

The La Salle City Council voted 5-4 Monday against bidding on a 45-acre property along Interstate 80.

The council went into closed session for about 30 minutes after public comments to discuss the potential to bid on the property, which is located across from 3020 E. Eighth Road in Utica – but is within the limits of La Salle.

Alderman John “Doc” Lavieri said the reason the council had the closed session was not to disclose the number the council would be willing to bid if it voted yes. Discussion about real estate acquisitions is permitted in closed session by state law.

City Attorney James McPhedran said the council was voting whether to grant Mayor Jeff Grove, Finance Chairman Tom Ptak and Economic Development Director Curt Bedei the authority to negotiate on the property. The council needed a majority vote or six of nine voting yes with the mayor’s voting counting to the majority.

“Whoever grabs it we are going to reach out to them. And hope that they’re going to be aggressive with it and not sit on it for speculation. I kind of feel for 17 years, it’s been that way.”

—  Mayor Jeff Grove

The council ruled against bidding on the property with a 5-4 ruling, with Ptak, Lavieri, Joe Jeppson and Jordan Crane voting no.

Jeppson said he voted against the bidding because he doesn’t feel the city of La Salle should be in the real estate business.

“The property has sat there for 17 years,” he said. “We had Thortons come in and say they were going to build– then they backed out. We’ve been dealing with the brewery downtown, the hotel downtown, all these stalled projects. I couldn’t see the city engaging in a real estate project with nothing on the forefront.”

Grove said he was “grossly disappointed,” but he respected the council’s opinion, saying it voted what it thought was best for constituents.

“We have a great downtown and we want to continue to build that,” he said. “But, we really need something up north along Interstate 80 to take advantage of that quarter.”

Grove said the auction for the property will be on Dec. 12 and the bidding will start at $825,000, which works out to about $18,000 an acre – which is “not bad” for a commercial property off of I-80, he said.

“Whoever grabs it we are going to reach out to them,” he said. “And hope that they’re going to be aggressive with it and not sit on it for speculation. I kind of feel for 17 years, it’s been that way.”

Grove said every opportunity is a big opportunity for La Salle and the city has been disappointed prior with the property across from Flying J, where a Thornton’s gas station was supposed to be built.

He said the location of the 45-acre property at the northwest corner of Route 178 and Interstate 80 is a revenue opportunity for La Salle, saying it’s difficult for him to send people to neighboring communities for lodging after they visit the Celebration of Lights or other activities in town.

“I mean 2.2 million visitors going to Starved Rock,” he said. “I would love to see a potential gas station truck stop. I’d love to see a hotel … I have no problem putting that towards our neighbors. I would rather have it stay home. But, that’s pillow taxes for other cities.”

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