An eyesore marring downtown Benld for nearly a decade may be removed in the near future as a result of action taken by the Benld City Council during the council’s regular monthly meeting Monday night.
On a motion by Ald. John Balzraine, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Jim Kelly to advertise for bids to demolish derelict commercial buildings at 202 and 204 East Central Avenue directly across the street from City Hall. The action does not ensure that the buildings will be immediately razed, but it will provide city officials with a cost estimate, enabling the city to appropriate funds for the project sometime during the current fiscal year.
“Even if we don’t go ahead with it, we will be able to appropriate the money for it next month,” Kelly said.
Popularly known as the “Contratto Building,” the property at 204 East Central Avenue has been an issue for debate since at least 2014 when the property was declared a public nuisance. By that time, the roof of the boarded-up storefront had collapsed into the basement even though the facade remained standing. The property was the focus of extended litigation which ultimately resulted in the city’s acquisition of the property.
In the summer of 2017, the council briefly considered having the back of the building razed while leaving the facade to maintain the building’s aesthetic and avoid the appearance of a vacant lot in the downtown area. Council members quickly backed away from the plan, however, after learning the cost of leaving the facade intact could cost $15,000 to $40,000 in addition to the cost of acquiring the property.
Dealing with the building’s future was further complicated by the fact it shares a wall with a neighboring property to the west at 202 East Central Avenue. City officials were advised it would be difficult to raze the building at 204 East Central Avenue without endangering the property at 202 East Central Avenue. That roadblock was circumvented in the fall of 2020 when the council voted to purchase the property at 202 East Central Avenue. Only recently, the city obtained the court’s permission to raze both buildings.
The two properties comprise the west end of a larger commercial facade that once housed a grocery store serving Benld and the surrounding area. Featuring distinctive white tile accents, the facade has been a focal point of the downtown area for decades. The east half of the facade and the building fronts will remain intact.
ROSES FOR BENLD WELCOME SIGN
Council members unanimously accepted a proposal from Mayfield’s Garden Center and Landscaping, Staunton, to install seven two-gallon size red drift roses at the Welcome to Benld sign on Illinois Route 4 at a cost of $670. In addition to supplying and planting the roses, the vendor will remove existing daylilies, put down new landscape cloth and install rock around the plants. Three of the roses will be planted in front of the sign with two on each corner in the back of the sign.
Ald., Balzraine said the drift roses are virtually maintenance-free. He said the Cemetery Board of Trustees installed drift roses at the Benld City Cemetery and have been pleased with planting.
“You don’t have to do anything to them,” he said.
In other action, the council unanimously authorized Mayor Kelly to advertise an upcoming city-wide clean-up day set for Saturday, May 15.
Residents are urged to place bulky items for disposal on the curbside before 6 a.m., May 15, when Flowers Sanitation will pick up items free of charge. Appliances, furniture and general refuse are among the items acceptable for disposal through the program. Items that will not be picked up include landscape waste, bricks, cement, masonry, paint, tires, batteries, chemicals, burn barrels and electronics such as televisions and computers. Likewise, normal household trash that would be picked up weekly are not permissible. The items placed on the curb for disposal should not occupy a space greater than four feet wide by eight feet long by six feet in height.
“People need to put stuff out early,” Kelly said. “When they start picking up at 6 a.m., it will go quickly. If they have stuff out for pick up a day or two early, that’s okay.”
Council members also heard a letter from former resident Matt Olmsted thanking the city for hiring an ordinance officer and specifically thanking Ordinance Officer Jake Simmons for helping resolve an issue with a tenant at a property owned by Olmsted.