RIVERDALE, Ill. (CBS) — South suburban Riverdale has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the nine worst municipal credit ratings in the nation, so the last thing some city leaders want is a new church that won’t pay any taxes, but that’s exactly what they’re going to get.
The Israel God of Church in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood has plans to move to a vacant lot in south suburban Riverdale, where the Board of Trustees already has approved construction of a 6,000-seat church at 500 W. 138th St.
CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports the final sale is scheduled for next month, but the controversy is just beginning.
A defunct fueling station that sits on 19 acres of cracked concrete and overgrown weeds could soon be home to a new mega church owned by the Israel of God church.
“We don’t need no church. We have a church sitting at least 100 yards away,” said Riverdale resident Ken Allen, who is among those who oppose the plans for the mega-church.
It’s not because of religious objections, but economic concerns.
“Is that church gonna give us jobs?” he said. “That’s what we need out here. We need work. We need employment We have too much people out here unemployed.”
The church also represents a loss of property tax revenue, since the owners of the vacant lot were still paying about $100,000 a year in property taxes for the 19-acre property.
The village was getting about half of that money, and Riverdale Mayor Deyon Dean said they can’t afford to lose that funding.
“Someone has to pay for it, and we have to make up for those monies in some way,” Dean said. “When you look at it, this may increase fees for many things – for public safety, for stickers, for other things that we don’t want to have to increase.”
Sean Drumgooie, president of the Riverdale Zoning Board — which also opposed the sale of the lot to the church – said “we need the opportunity to strengthen our community by increasing the tax base, bringing the correct revenues in.”
He said he was hoping to bring in businesses like Wal-Mart, Panera Bread, Starbucks.
“Whoever wants to come in and rebuild Riverdale, we have an open invitation. Come and talk to the community. Give us the assistance. We’re open,” he said.
But Henry Buie, pastor of the Israel of God church, pointed out that the lot has been vacant for many years.
“This land was for sale for all these years. Why nobody else bought it and did anything with it?” “It’s here, and nobody’s purchased it. Anybody could have walked in and purchased it.”
Buie convinced the Riverdale Board of Trustees that the church would help revitalize the community, and could eventually include businesses.
“We’re not coming out here with hats in our hands. We’re coming out here with money to spend,” he said. “Any village that don’t have the good sense to know that if it is exposed to 6,000 people, that’s going to be in their own interests, then somebody surely is not making any calculations.”
A community meeting to discuss the planned mega-church is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Riverdale Village Hall.
Dean said he hopes community pressure will persuade the church to change its plans, but so far church leaders don’t intend to do that, so the controversy continues.