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Our View: Details wanted in exchange for more incentives

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The DeKalb City Council has received two requests for incentives for redevelopment plans, but they’re not of equal merit – at least, not yet.

One request, from Bill and Joy McMahon, owners of Lincoln Inn Restaurant, is for a combined $355,000 in incentives, including a $330,000 forgivable loan.

The McMahons, whose Lincoln Inn was named the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year earlier this year, purchased the long-vacant DeKalb Clinic Annex building at 302 Grove St. at auction in March. Now they plan to renovate the building and open a banquet hall by September.

They say there is a need in the city for such a facility, but the cost to renovate the building are expected to reach $1.7 million.

As 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson pointed out at the City Council meeting Monday, requests like the McMahons’ are the reason the city established tax-increment financing districts in the first place.

Their plan is to redevelop a property that has long been disused. They need help to cover the cost to renovate the building, which will improve property values in the area.

It is a project the city should fund. It will serve a need in the community and will be a vast upgrade over the status quo.

The second project is more expensive and less defined. John Pappas, owner of Pappas Development, is requesting a $628,000 forgivable loan to spur redevelopment of the Small’s Furniture building at 2211 Sycamore Road.

The hulking building needs to come down, and it will be costly to renovate the site to make it suitable for something new. Pappas estimates the costs could exceed $4 million. Again, that’s part of why the city has established tax-increment financing districts to do – encourage redevelopment that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

However, unlike the McMahons, Pappas does not have a solid plan for the site yet. At Monday’s council meeting, he proposed putting retail or a restaurant there, but didn’t have any definitive plans or tenants.

Vacant retail space is plentiful already in the area, both in the nearby shopping plazas and in outbuildings.

Local consumers want more restaurant options. They have said so in surveys, and the City Council was ready to loan Darden Restaurants $900,000 to build an Olive Garden restaurant on the Small’s site, a plan we supported.

Although Pappas is seeking a smaller financial commitment than that offered to Darden, it’s still a substantial one. Council members should wait until there are some details of the proposal before deciding to fund it.

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