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Kirkland using TIF funds to renovate former grocery store

KIRKLAND – Rather than wait for economic development, the Kirkland Village Board is putting tax increment financing dollars to work.

After numerous complaints from residents, the board purchased the empty building that once housed a grocery store on Main Street. An ad hoc committee is working toward getting the building cleaned out, renovated and then rented or sold.

Village President Les Bellah talked about the history of the building, and getting the community involved in its revitalization.

“The store was once owned by former Village President Fred Manni,” Bellah said. Manni sold it, and the buyers seemed to pass it around among family members, Bellah said. The business declined to the point where residents disliked shopping there, he said.

Finally, the owners walked away and the bank repossessed the building, leaving it empty for about two years. Bellah said the bank tried to auction the building, but it didn’t sell. When the price tag was set at $90,000, Bellah and the board instructed attorney Scott Puma to offer $50,000 from the village’s general fund. The bank agreed and the village now owns the 6,500-square-foot building.

“This was a no-brainer,” Bellah said.

Village trustee John Pierce serves on the committee as the liaison with the Village Board. Public works employee Dale Miller is the chairman. Other committee members are Emily Harvel, Wayne Johnson and Jamie Bellah, who is the village president’s daughter-in-law.

Pierce said the next step is to clean out the fixtures – shelves, coolers and other equipment – left behind.

“We’ve talked about getting an auctioneer in here to auction off the shelves and coolers,” Pierce said.

Once that is complete, Pierce said the committee can get some professional assistance to prioritize what needs to be done to bring the building up to code.

“It looks pretty bad, but the building appears to be structurally sound,” Pierce said.

Although TIF funds cannot be used to purchase property, Bellah said the village has about $250,000 available in TIF funds to rehabilitate the building.

Included in Kirkland’s TIF district is the downtown business district. Bellah said TIF funds have been used for a variety of projects around the community, but the most visible are the sidewalk and lighting improvements to Main Street.

TIF districts are a special mechanism local governments can use to spur development in blighted areas. As development occurs and property values rise, increased property tax revenue is diverted to a special account that can be used for improvements for 23 years. Bellah said only four years remain for the community’s TIF district.

“If the money isn’t spent, we have to rebate it to the property owners, but if it’s earmarked for a project, we can use it,” Bellah said.

Neither Pierce nor Bellah had an estimate of when the project might be complete.

“We can’t go so fast that we’ll screw it up,” Bellah said.

By the time the building is ready to be occupied again, Bellah hopes to have a tenant. He said he will actively recruit a convenience store.

Although he said he wasn’t aware of any other community purchasing a building to renovate, Bellah said it was empty for so long that he believed the board needed to do something.

“There may be someone in DeKalb County looking for this,” Bellah said. “We can’t wait for economic development. We’re being proactive.”

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