DeKALB – Business owners caught in the middle of a downtown redevelopment proposal along First Street and Lincoln Highway are confident that they would not have to close their doors if the project moved forward.
John Pappas of Pappas Development is the principal developer for a plan to demolish three buildings at 122, 124 and 112-118 E. Lincoln Highway, including one housing the Mediterraneo Grill, and another that is home to Barb City Bagels, to create a four-story structure with apartments above commercial space.
Mediterraneo owner Omar Musfi said he is working with Pappas on a deal to relocate his Middle Eastern restaurant closer to the Northern Illinois University campus, or in another of Pappas’ properties in town. He said Mediterraneo would remain open downtown until the end of May if the demolition plan was approved.
“It was good to be in downtown, and people made a lot of efforts to eat in my restaurant since there’s not much parking downtown,” Musfi said on changing locations. “We’ve made it for the past seven years, and people have liked our food.”
The tentative agreement is for Pappas to buy out Musfi’s lease and the Lincoln Highway property at the beginning of March and allow Mediterraneo Grill to remain open in the building for free until the demolition began, Musfi said.
DeKalb Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton said that Pappas had informed city staff that the Lincoln Highway properties would be demolished first, and the Barb City Bagels building would remain operational until it could move to its new location at the proposed building.
Barb City Bagels owner Tim Hays said he thought his bagel shop wouldn’t have to close for more than a week in order to move equipment to the new shop, which would be roughly the same size as the current one.
“We’re pretty excited about the opportunity,” Hays said. “This [project] would be good for downtown, and I’m glad we’re sticking around to be a part of it.”
Plans call for the old Barb City Bagels building to be torn down to create parking for apartment tenants, Charlton said.
The City Council will hear an overview of the project during its Feb. 13 meeting. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and then would hold a public hearing on the project Feb. 15, after that the council could rule on moving forward with the plan as early as Feb. 27.
Based on the scale of the project, Mayor John Rey said he would not be surprised if the developer requested tax increment financing funds to help pay for it. First Ward Alderman David Jacobson said that this seemed like one of the few projects he has seen that makes sense for investing TIF money.
“I think this is exactly what TIF funding was meant to do,” Jacobson said. “To take a vacant building with structural and cosmetic issues and turning the building back into a useful and productive building, not only as far as its services but productive for the city as a retail tax generator.”
One of the buildings being demolished, at 112-118 E. Lincoln Highway, last was home to Otto’s nightclub. It has been uninhabitable for more than three years because of damage caused by a burst pipe.
The city had sought a court order allowing it to be torn down.
Seventh Ward Alderman Tony Faivre said he thought the project would be worth an investment depending on how much is being requested.
“I think the potential for the city to end up with a building we would either condemn or remediate would be quite expensive,” Faivre said. “I think the project would be kind of a catalyst to start getting additional investments into downtown, and from what I’ve been told, other buildings are nearing the point of teardown.”