DeKALB – The Balli family wants the City of DeKalb to fund half of the expected costs to renovate 206 E. Lincoln Highway, formerly Eduardo's Mexican Restaurant, with tax increment finance money.
In response, city council expressed strong support of the project, and said they might be willing to go against the grain and offer more than what's been done in the past. In past practice city TIF funds are capped at 30% of overall project costs.
Rosa Balli, one of the owners of the building, spoke on behalf of her family Monday and asked the city to support their $541,000 plans to build four luxury apartments on the second floor of the space with money from tax increment financing. They also plan to renovate the ground level but did not include the project costs in the TIF request.
"My family is willing to invest close to $700,000 for the redevelopment [of the whole building]," Balli said. "We cannot and we will not invest more money unless we can get the assistance from TIF."
The Eduardo's building has been in a TIF district since the city's first foray into tax increment financing in 1986, with the district known as TIF 1, or the central business TIF. That TIF remains open and will be closed in 2021. With the creation of TIF 3 in 2019, the building remains in the area approved for utilizing the money. Since 1972, the Balli family has invested over $2 million in DeKalb buildings, according to city documents, and they were awarded $10,000 in TIF money for facade improvements on the Lincoln Highway building.
Balli gave a pointed appeal to the city, and compared her request to other DeKalb developers who have received TIF assistance for similar projects, such as Pappas Development-led mixed use spaces Cornerstone DeKalb, Plaza DeKalb and Agora Tower.
"Why does it have to be the big guy with millions?" Balli said. "Can't it be an independent that's been down there for 30 years? Isn't that the basis of TIF?"
Members of the council expressed strong support, and said they'd be willing to budge on their normal preference to cap TIF aid at 30% of total project costs.
"I think this is a perfect project for downtown," said Ward 3 Alderman Tracy Smith. "And I stand behind you."
City Manager Bill Nicklas will bring the TIF request up for a council vote at a future meeting when council will determine how much TIF money to grant.
Nicklas said mixed-use spaces like residential on upper levels and retail on ground floors is becoming more paramount to keep struggling businesses afloat, since rent provides regular revenue for business owners in the event retail sales plummet.
"It's real hard to survive as a commercial entity in this day and age in our community," Nicklas said. "We don't have two million people here within a 15-minute drive. So how do you deal with that? Well, you add some cash flow and the cash flow is the rent."