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Fairview Heights To Get Metro East’s Third Marijuana Dispensary

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — A new recreational marijuana dispensary is set to open early next year in Fairview Heights.

The Fairview Heights City Council voted 8-1 Wednesday to approve the dispensary near the intersection of Interstate 64 and Illinois Route 159.

Ascend Illinois can now move forward with opening its second dispensary in the region at 114 Commerce Lane, a defunct Babies R Us store, in the city's main shopping district.

“We’re looking for ways to generate revenue in our city,” said Mayor Mark Kupsky. “Cannabis will provide a significant amount of sales tax revenue directly.”

Wednesday’s vote is the culmination of nearly a year of work by the Metro East community of 17,000. Kupsky said he wanted the council to consider the potential of a marijuana business carefully.

“We took our time,” Kupsy said. “We wanted to see what guidelines other communities were putting in in terms of zoning and planning requirements, hours of operation, so that we could take what we thought were the best and incorporate them.”

Other cities in the region, such as Belleville, Edwardsville and East St. Louis, quickly approved the regulations necessary to allow marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions and have received some interest but nothing concrete.

Kupsky said Fairview Heights has received consistent attention from individuals and companies interested in opening the city’s first dispensary since Illinois legalized recreational cannabis.

Ascend was one of them and has wanted to open a dispensary in Fairview Heights even before the first days of legal sales in Illinois. The intersection of Interstate 64 and Illinois Route 159, two major roadways, offers good visibility for a potential store, said Kathleen Olivastro, Ascend’s southern Illinois regional director.

“This is the hub. It’s the retail hub,” she said. “It couldn’t be a better location for us.”

Olivastro said the Fairview Heights area draws from a 200-mile radius, while bringing different customers than the company’s Collinsville dispensary.

“I expect it to pull from a different demographic and still be able to serve as many customers as the Collinsville location does,” she said. “Even though it’s five or 10 miles from Collinsville, it’ll make it easier and more convenient for people that live on this side of the highways.”

Olivastro expects the new dispensary in Fairview Heights to generate levels of revenue similar to the Collinsville location, which consistently sells more marijuana products than most other dispensaries in the state.

The city of Collinsville expects to bring in $1.5 million to $2 million annually from taxes on the dispensary's marijuana sales.

This approval for a dispensary in the city comes at a time when smaller cities like Fairview Heights need new sources of revenue. Retail businesses saw their sales drop dramatically because of the coronavirus pandemic, but cannabis dispensaries in Illinois were hardly affected.

“We have seen a decrease in sales tax over the last many years as people have moved to online sales,” Kupsky said. “COVID has created a significant drop in sales tax revenue.”

Fairview Heights is in a unique position compared to its neighbors because the city, home to St. Clair Square Mall, relies exclusively on sales tax as its source of revenue, he explained.

“Put COVID aside, it will help fill the gap we had with declining in-store sales with brick-and-mortar stores,” Kupsky said.

The mayor stressed the dispensary wasn’t about just generating revenue for the city, but trying to maintain Fairview Heights’ status as a hub for retail. Olivastro agreed.

“When you get into a market like Fairview Heights, it’s very solid as far as the business community,” she said. “We think we can make a contribution.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.