Bryan Vogt: Welcome back to Ready, Set, Sold. I am your host Bryan Vogt. I am so pleased to introduce our next guest, it’s someone who I’ve known for years who has basically, I would say, dedicated his life to the city of Belleville. That’s of course the Honorable Mayor Mark Eckert. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.
Mark Eckert: Good morning Bryan, I appreciate the opportunity. As you say is, we’ve known each other for some time, but we’ve done a few of these little segments before along the way for things you recorded. I’m always glad to talk about Belleville and the things that are going on, and all the good things that are happening here.
Bryan Vogt: I think that’s the case too, and that was one of the reasons why we wanted to get on the actual Mayors, the leaders of the cities in the metro east because you hear a lot of things. There’s the old story of if you want to get depressed, watch the national news; if you want to get really depressed, watch the local news. Sometimes the truth stories and the good stories don’t get out, and that’s another reason why it’s great to have you with us.
One of the things we wanted to talk about and we talked about it earlier before we came on air, really is honing down on some of the maybe the top three things that makes Belleville the place to live. Where if you’re living here now and that you want to stay here, and you have a home that you want to sell and then you’re going to move to another location in Belleville. Or maybe you’re a first-time home buyer and you want to move into a community where they know that you’re going to have some great things happening.
So maybe you can sort of addressing some of those things, maybe the top three things.
Mark Eckert: Sure. I’m processing in my mind where to start, there’s so much. First of all, Bryan, I thank you … I appreciate your introduction and that. I’ve lived in Belleville my entire 61 years and I love this city. The one thing about Belleville is … Belleville has a volunteer spirit like no other city around. I’m sure every Mayor would like to say that or does say it from time to time.
But if you just stop and think about Belleville’s … What we do thanks to volunteers right off the bat. This coming weekend is Chili Cook-Off, it’s all done with volunteers primarily. A small paid staff from the chamber, but volunteers. Art in the Square, number one art show in the nation six out of the last ten years. All done by a complete volunteer group. Oktoberfest. The festivals go on. The Christkindlmarket.
I’m saying this because one of the exciting things about Belleville, Bryan, is we have a downtown. One of the first things I did when I became Mayor in December of ’04 … We realized that we had to tackle our downtown because it had really become pretty depressed, pretty broken down. So we did a $7 million street scape investment starting in … Well, the planning was in 2005, construction was 2006 and 2007. We created the bump-outs, the walkability, the new lamppost. That whole new look up and down main street, east and west for 13 blocks, plus the public square.
The core of your city has got to be alive and vibrant, and that’s what we did. Then these festivals, and the parades, and everything that we do as a community. Other communities come here for our activities because we truly have not only beautiful architecture of our buildings downtown, but we truly have an exciting, vibrant downtown with the street scape, etc. cetera. So that was one of the first things we did, and that’s one of the attractive things about Belleville.
The holidays, there’s a … I’ve had people come from other cities and say, “It’s almost like a Norman Rockwell painting at the holidays with the trolley, and Santa on the square, and all the lights.” I take that as a compliment because a lot of people have pitched in over the years to make these things happen.
But the other thing about Belleville, Bryan, we’re 203 years old this year. I just hung up from a phone conversation with the Philharmonic because I asked them to play at the 21st of October, Saturday morning we’re going to have the rededication of our remodeled city hall. I just moved back in this week. We’re unpacking boxes as we speak. City hall was built in 19 … Started in ’57, dedicated in ’59. It’s a Charles King architecture design. But it needed a lot of work and we made it ADA compliant now. We did a lot of things you’re going to … People who see it, it’s beautiful what we’ve done.
But my point is, there’s a lot of history and culture in this town. We have the second oldest continuous Philharmonic in the nation, 150 years this year. We also have three historic neighborhoods. A lot of people don’t know that. We have some fabulous older housing that a lot of people are now reinvesting in. We have a lot of older, established neighborhoods that some in the real estate business sometimes overlook because it does take a little elbow grease. But we have some beautifully well-built homes and neighborhoods through the city.
We have new construction in various parts of the city, and more being talked about right now with myself and my Economic Development Department.
Belleville is 10 miles long, we’ve got the longest Main Street that’s not a state highway in the country. We have now a university, Lindenwood University, which has been a real shot in the arm to this city, having a university at our old Belleville west campus. That keeps continuing to grow, and it brings a whole other economic boost, and it brings a whole other piece of excitement to the daily living in Belleville.
We have done a lot. We’ve built a new police station. We added a fourth fire house. We lowered our ISO rating, our insurance rating, to a two. There’s only 900 fire departments in the nation with a better rating than the city of Belleville’s. We’ve done a lot of things collectively. Worked on bike trails, connecting parks. We work hard with our friend at Scott Air Force Base.
You know Bryan, the city of Belleville has the oldest, longest continuous serving military civilian partnership in the nation – 67 years, Belle Scott. We really don’t just talk about it, we work every month helping the young men and women at Scott Air Force Base who are serving us and protecting us around the world. We just headed a big picnic for their families of all the service men and women who are deployed.
I’m really proud of this city. We have a great sister cities partnership with Paderborn, Germany. Belleville’s alive and well. It’s exciting. There’s a lot going on, more than ever. We’ve done a lot. We reinvested in our Carnegie Library, a million dollars a couple of years ago. We’ve done a lot of other things that investors and realtors probably need to know, such as making major repairs to our waste water treatment plant, so that we can continue to grow. That we can continue to solve problems that some cities are being plagued with, that we finally have hit head on. So, there’s a lot of infrastructure work, improvements.
The next thing is 6th to 17th Street. We’re going to be doing the street scape from 6th to 17th Street going west on Main. It’ll start in the spring of 2018. We’re going to lift up that area just like we did downtown and North Illinois Street.
So, it’s an exciting time, I’m very fortunate to serve as Mayor. Mayor in Belleville is full-time, and it’s a pleasure to serve here. I just got elected to my fourth term. I have been blessed to have great people in this city, but I go back to what I started out with; the volunteer spirit in Belleville is second to none.
Bryan Vogt: Growing up, like you I lived in the metro east, but near Belleville my whole life. I remember Belleville was the place to be. Then as years went past, it was “why go down to Belleville?” I sometimes, and I mean this sincerely, I have to pinch myself that Belleville, and especially downtown Belleville but other areas, have become a destination point.
Mark Eckert: We are.
Bryan Vogt: It’s where people go.
Mark Eckert: You’re right Bryan, and I’m proud of that. It’s taken a lot of people, it’s not just Mark Eckert by any means. I’m proud of our downtown. Our outside dining, the Route 15 corridor is got some really exciting times ahead of us. I agree with you, we’ve become a destination again. Whether it’s Eckert’s Orchards, which is no relation to me, but a wonderful place that people come from all the St. Louis metropolitan area. We’ve got some neat things.
One of the things we’ve just got to do, and that’s why I appreciate you calling me today. We’ve got to tell the story better of what all the good things are going on in Belleville. We’ve got to continue to recruit people to come over here, because we are a very diverse community today, and we’re very proud of all the things we got going.
Bryan Vogt: Absolutely. We’re going to end this segment here but just so you know, we’re going to be in the next segment, we’ll be taking more to the Mayor of Belleville, the Honorable Mark Eckert. You’re listening to Ready, Set, Sold with your host Brian Vogt.