SYCAMORE – The Sycamore Plan Commission did not have any cause to halt a proposal by Franklin Development Trust to redevelop the former Brown’s County Market location at 403 E. State St.
The proposal presented Monday by the organization’s president, Douglas Olson of Hinckley, would see the former grocery store turned into an indoor self-storage facility along with several options for new retail at the location.
The site has been empty, save for a Family Dollar store at the corner, since the grocer filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Olson said the idea began with looking for a building.
“We started with the concept of looking for buildings in distress,” Olson said. “Then we see what we can do with that building.”
Along with improvements required because of deferred maintenance of the building, one of the challenges the space poses is that retailers today prefer wider space and less depth to the store than the location currently provides, Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said.
Olson’s proposal for the self-storage business would make use of the depth not wanted by many retailers, and allow for retail for fast food at the front of the building. He referred to online comments made on a weekend Daily Chronicle article about what people wanted to come into the location, and said there were limitations on what would be allowed in the building.
Because of the particulars in Family Dollar’s lease, there are restrictions, Olson said. It does not allow for businesses such as restaurants except for fast food, banquet centers, sports or gaming businesses, education facilities, training facilities or office space to move into the location.
Commission Chairman Bill Davey referred to the Family Dollar lease as a “fly in the ointment,” but also acknowledged it was a good business to have on that side of town. The store’s lease extends to 2020, with Family Dollar having six options of five-year extensions to stay in the space.
Olson told the commission that he has seen the a similar business model used in other locations. U-Haul has been buying closed Sears and Kmart stores and converting them into indoor self-storage facilities and using parking lot space to also rent trucks. He said his plan would not involve truck rental. Inside the facility would 178 units of varying size, he said. There would not be vehicle storage or equipment storage.
He said Sycamore was currently underserved by the industry and that his research showed the area could support another 100,000 square feet of storage facilities.
“We would not want any gasoline in the building,” Olson said. It would be a secure facility, monitored by cameras, but not by a permanent on-site employee. Business would be conducted at a kiosk in the facility.
Several members of the community in attendance spoke at the meeting. Rondo Zeigler, owner of Rondo Truck and Trailer, said he was concerned whatever went into the building could not succeed and wondered if there was another agenda being pursued.
“The building itself does not look like it can support a business,” he said. “I don’t mean to be negative, I’m just making a comment as a businessman.”
Olson said all of his team’s research showed the location could sustain the proposed business at that location.
Resident Jeff Fisher asked about what tax revenue the facility would generate for the facility.
“There’s not a lot,” Olson said, other than the property tax and any sales tax from the retail units.
Gregory said that improvements on the lot and investments in the lot would increase the property tax revenue, however.
The city first needs to determine if the indoor self-storage facility can be permitted in the location. The space is zoned for Central Business District, the same as downtown Sycamore. There will be a series of public hearings and public meetings to determine whether or not to amend the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to allow for a special use permit.
After that, the city would go through its process involving a second series of hearings and meetings to determine if a permit should be granted.
Gregory said the self-storage proposal will again be workshopped in the Plan Commission soon to allow neighbors and nearby residents to provide input on the proposal.
Olson said he was open for input and ideas from the commission and the public, that he wanted to do something that worked for the building, the business and the community.
“Change is hard for some people and I understand that,” he said. “If people have ideas, I’m open to ideas. ... If you think about it, this building has sitting for five years. For five years this building has been a storage building, it’s just not open for business.”