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Local

Geneva aldermen vote down redevelopment incentive 5-4

Proposal for 124 W. State St. to be reconsidered Aug. 17

GENEVA – Aldermen voted 5-4 Aug. 3 against a proposed economic incentive for the redevelopment of the building at 124 W. State St. as a restaurant.

The building was formerly occupied by Bicycle Heaven and H4 Fitness.

The proposed incentive agreement included a sales tax rebate of 75% of the 1% municipal retailers tax collected for 10 years up to $365,200 in improvement reimbursement, and defers a parking fee in lieu of parking spaces and permit fees up to $150,000.

The parking and permit fee funds would be reimbursed by municipal sales tax revenue generated once the new restaurant would open.

Cody and Chanel Renkosik are under contract to buy the building as a second location for Burger and Sushi House, or B.A.S.H, officials said.

The owners have a B.A.S.H. location in Ottawa, which was established in 2013 and relocated and expanded in 2018, officials said.

The property at 124 W. State St. has been on the market for two years, officials said.

To create a new anchor attraction, the 14,820-square-foot lot with 14,000 square feet of commercial and warehouse space would have to be completely gutted, officials said.

The acquisition and remodeling would cost more than $3 million, and those interested in purchasing the property decided not to move forward.

The Geneva Economic Development Department brought the parties together for further negotiation.

A public gap financing option was presented, resulting in a new sales contract contingent on the City Council’s approval of the proposed incentives with Industry House LLC, 124 W. State St., officials said.

Several aldermen balked at giving a newcomer to the city an incentive during a pandemic while other local restaurants were suffering.

“I have to vote against this tonight,” 1st Ward Alderman Tara Burghart said. “They sound like really impassioned owners, very brave to be starting a new business at this time. … It’s hard for me to support these kinds of incentives for a new restaurant when we have so many restaurants that are struggling.”

Burghart cited a national study that predicted a third of restaurants won’t make it through the pandemic.

“So I have got nothing against this particular restaurant, it just feels to me just like the wrong time to vote in favor of these kind of incentives when we do have so many restaurants that could use similar help here in Geneva already,” Burghart said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Swanson agreed.

“I have the same sentiments as Alderman Burghart. Again, I don’t think it’s the right time,” Swanson said. “I applaud the restaurateurs for coming in here and having the plan and for doing this at this time, but given what’s going on in the current economic environment, I don’t think it’s showing support to our existing restaurateurs.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Gabriel Kaven said this was a difficult decision for him to make.

“I would love to see that building redeveloped, but it’s … the scope and overall amount is what I am struggling with a little bit,” Kaven said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said the proposed action does not threaten any other business in the city.

“If we are really interested in protecting these other businesses, then we probably ought not to issue a liquor license to any new business that comes into town,” Maladra said. “We have known for years the infrastructure of the business buildings in the central downtown is outdated. And I think that when a vacancy does develop and the infrastructure of that building does not meet the needs of modern business, it’s going to sit vacant longer than it might would otherwise.”

Maladra said approving the economic incentive would be an investment in the downtown, trying to ensure it can be positioned to do business in the 21st century.

“I appreciate more that there is a business outside that is willing to take a risk on Geneva,” Maladra said.

First Ward Alderman Michael Bruno said the economic incentive was the city investing in the property, not in the business itself.

“This is an important gateway property,” Bruno said. “If we can get foot traffic to that parcel, that will help that entire block, that entire quarter on that east end.”

Aldermen voting no were Burghart, Kaven, Swanson and 3rd Ward Aldermen Becky Hruby and Dean Kilburg. Aldermen voting yes were Maladra, Bruno, 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Marks and 3rd Ward Aldermen Jeanne McGowan.

The vote was 5-4 because former alderman Michael Clements resigned and a new alderman has not yet been appointed to replace him.

“I am very sad to report that the motion has failed,” Mayor Kevin Burns said.

Burns said he would bring the issue back up for consideration at the Aug. 17 City Council meeting.

“I believe it is in the best interest of this community to advance that economic incentive program for the purported restaurant to be known as B.A.S.H.,” Burns said.

In discussions with downtown restaurant owners, they did not have misgivings about the new restaurant nor the economic incentive package, Burns said.

“I think we can have more robust discussion on the facts as it relates to some misunderstanding with regard to our investment in either the business or quote ‘us giving money away,’ which, of course, we are not doing either,” Burns said. “I think we could take some time to reconsider some of the comments made by folks, who, I believe, may have done a disservice to the overall health and well-being of the downtown.”

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