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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    BELLEVILLE — A 1,000-seat Hofbräuhaus restaurant could be open by spring, just about the time developers will start construction of a hotel and conference center that are part of the destination complex.
    Approximately 18 months later, visitors will have a place from which they can stay, eat and visit sites from around the St. Louis region, supporters say.
    The hotel, a six-story Hyatt Place tower, will be located along Illinois Route 15, across the highway from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. It will have 130 guest rooms and 24 meeting rooms and be designed for both business and leisure travelers.
    Next door will be a 40,000-square-foot conference center, which will have broad appeal, said Chane Keller, vice president of Oak Tree Management Services, which is developing the 33-acre site and will operate the hotel/conference center.
    “Add this state-of-the-art conference and meeting center with a ballroom for 1,500 people and Belleville will have a world-class hospitality complex,” Keller said.  
    Construction and design costs for the hotel, restaurant and conference center are estimated at $28 million, Keller said.
    A $12 million Hofbräuhaus is expected to be completed in January, with installation and testing of brewing equipment imported from Germany in January and February. Opening date will be determined when satisfactory production at the on-site brewery is established.
    The Kellers are investing more than $11.5 million in the restaurant and micro-brewery, plus another $7 million for site preparation. The Hofbrauhaus will be the largest themed destination restaurant in the region, Keller said.
    ICON Commercial Lending Inc., has invested in a partnership with Oak Tree Management to own the hotel/conference center/restaurant and has guaranteed up to $30 million for construction, according to ICON Managing Director Randall Farr.
    “We believe this overall development will be a huge benefit to the city of Belleville, to St. Clair County and to the entire St. Louis area,” Farr said in a statement.
    “The financing plan is in place,” Keller told the Illinois Business Journal. “It’s a private equity firm and they are 100 percent ready to go.”
    The hotel will be the first new one to be built in Belleville in 55 years.
    The hotel at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows will remain open and under Shrine management until the Hyatt Place complex opens. Current plans are for the 70-room hotel to be closed and the building re-purposed for other uses not yet determined, according to Chris Diehl, the Shrine’s guest services and marketing manager.
    Some 150 new jobs are anticipated when the facilities are up and running, Keller said.
    The series of events began last year when the Keller family agreed to a 50-year lease of the 33-acre property from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which runs the Shrine.
    The Keller family has some 50 years’ experience in the hotel trade, starting in their native Effingham and spreading to several  states.
    The need for a high-end hotel has been a goal of Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert for many years.
    “The Shrine had expressed to me many years ago that they would love to see a hotel built nearby because they were never designed to be in the hotel business. They are in the ministry business,” Eckert said. “A partnership like this makes all those things continue to happen.”
    Not having an upscale hotel has hurt the city’s ability to draw major meetings, weddings and other big-ticket events, Eckert said.
    The mayor convinced the City Council last year to annex the site, and to  extend the city’s tax increment financing district to the site. An enterprise zone and a business district area also part of the financial underpinnings.
    The state will address the interchange in front of the complex, said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.
    “We have already begun to work on the ingress and egress issues that are going to be faced as you come in off 15 into this project. We’re committed to do that, and the state’s committed to do that. You only have to come to the Way of Lights to see how difficult it is to get into the Shrine, and then you’re going to add more traffic to that location. IDOT’s committed to make sure it’s safe going in and out of these projects.”
    Money has not yet been set aside, but IDOT’s leaders are supporting the improvements, Hoffman said, and the developers are expected to share costs to some degree.
    The road improvements would be done before the hotel is open, officials have said.
    A Jack Flash gas station also is planned at the intersection, though not yet started.
    Convention business will be a key element of the business plan, Keller said.
    “The size of this place, we’ll be able to accommodate small groups of 10 people all the way to 1,500 people — small or large conventions,” he said.
    There are some conventions that rotate in the state and he hopes to get in on a regular rotation for some of them. Other conventions are outgrowing existing facilities.
    The mayor said the city will not be involved in promoting the hotel/center but he can see the city benefitting from the property because of existing events like Art on the Square, which is one of the largest art shows of its kind in the nation.
    “For all of those type events, people are seeking nearby, quality places to lodge. We’re going to find out very quickly the hotel business is going to be very well received,” Eckert said.
    “We plan to work with all other entertainment facilities and tourism groups in the area, including Gateway International Raceway, the Casino Queen, Fairmount Park race track, the Blues hockey team and the Cardinals baseball team plus the St. Louis Sports Commission and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission as well as Illinois South Tourism,” Keller said. “We will do our best to maximize interest in visiting Belleville, Southwestern Illinois and St. Louis.”
    He pointed out that Hyatt Place hotel features a national reservation system as well.
    The Hyatt Place hotel will offer a wide range of services and amenities, including:
        - Complimentary hot breakfasts for guests.
        - 24-hour restaurant.
        - 24-hour gym featuring cardio equipment with LCD touchscreens.
        - 25-yard swimming pool for recreational use and exercise.
        - Cocktail bar featuring specialty coffees and premium beverages.
        - Complimentary Wi-Fi.
        - 24-hour business center.
        - 5,000-square-feet of meeting space within the hotel, separate from conference center.