City Council throws support behind cleanup of former Union Street Express.

When the Community P.R.I.D.E. Project was unveiled last year, the hope was that new and rehabbed homes would give a fresh look to Hannibal’s South Side. However, before reaching the parts of the neighborhood that is receiving the facelift, visitors first had to pass an eyesore, a long abandoned piece of commercial property at MO 79 and Union Street. However, it now appears the former Union Street Express convenience store site will be renovated too.

Undertaking the project is George Lee Jr., who recently purchased the site.

On May 15, Marion County Collector Harry Graves advised the County Commission that he had received a $7,000 offer from Lee for the property, which he termed a “reasonable offer.” Graves said the tax bill for the site was $6,943. He noted that taxes hadn’t been paid on that property since around 2005 and it had been in the tax sale many times without receiving any bids.

During the June 6 meeting of the City Council, City Manager Jeff LaGarce said that Lee intends to clean up the site, remove the fuel tanks and pumps, repair the exterior and windows, remove and replace falling gutters, fix cracked walls, take out dead and/or falling trees in the rear, renovate the parking lot and install new electric wiring.

“He’s not purchasing to renovate and start a new business himself,” said the city manager. “While disappointing, I must concede it’s far superior to the status quo, which hasn’t changed in the decade I’ve served here.”

According to LaGarce, before finalizing the purchase Lee approached the city regarding the $1,100 in city taxes that were outstanding.

“Lee requested the city waive these taxes. It’s illegal to waive outstanding taxes,” LaGarce said.

While unable to write off the property’s tax bill, LaGarce proposed that the city could enter a development agreement with Lee where it contributes $1,100 toward any “public portion” of the project renovation.

“I can support this because while not what I had hoped for at this location, it is a tremendous step in the right direction; one requisite for a business to even considering locating here,” he said. “Cleaning up and repairing the site is a net public good for the neighborhood. It could actually avoid new abatements and new costs on our part.”

The Council agreed and approved the development agreement.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com