Jul 28, 2014

Village Looks at Options for New Development Grants

Officials take hard look at how to attract new business after gauging the effectiveness of their restaurant grants.

Village Looks at Options for New Development Grants

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In an effort to continue downtown redevelopment, Lisle officials are reexamining grant offerings to attract new businesses.

Catherine Schuster, Lisle’s economic development director said the village board of trustees directed her department to “retool their grant programs” and come out with a new mix of grant offerings. While no grants are off the table, Schuster said some grant programs, such as the restaurant grants, are no longer a high priority.

Although the village was able to use a $20,000 restaurant grant to lure , Schuster said the grant has not been “as effective as we want it to be." In a Nov. 3 memo to village officials, Schuster called the restaurant grant program “a drain on staff and EDC time.”

Despite serious marketing efforts, the program failed to generate much interest from serious applicants. Most restaurants that have launched in the last two years, including and , have done so without the aid of village grants. (A project with a similar name to Firehouse, the Dublin Fire Brigade, was previously approved for a grant but did not move forward.)

Part of the grant's effectiveness has to do with the difficulty in opening a restaurant. Even in the best of economies new restaurants have a higher rate of failure, but in the current stagnant economy, it’s even tougher, Schuster said. While major restaurateurs are being conservative with their funds, she said smaller restaurant operators see the grant program as a source of funds for cash strapped projects or to make improvements to buildings that most likely should be demolished.

“Restaurants are not willing to take a chance in this market. Even the successful ones are holding their own as diners are watching their dollars,” Schuster said. “We're rethinking we like the idea, but with the time and economy there may be other grant programs we’re offering that work better with the economy.”

Village Manager Gerald Sprecher said the $200,000 restaurant grant program was good experience for economic development efforts.

While the board has not made a final decision on that grant pool, Sprecher said he hopes the board will address it in coming months.

“What they need to fine tune is whether that money needs to go back into facades or continue in restaurants or is used in another area of the village,” Sprecher said.

In the meantime, Sprecher said the village will put together a development program that’s more efficient and effective, and can be accomplished with limited dollars.

The economic development team is happiest with façade and retail grants, which are useful for attracting businesses that draw browsing shoppers to the downtown area, Schuster said.

“Browsing businesses are great. They’re the kind that draws shoppers over and over,” Schuster said.

While the economic development team retools the village’s economic grant programs, Schuster said she is pleased overall with the reshaping of downtown into “a nature-based retail and restaurant district.”

“The redevelopment is going really well, but the economy is the economy is the economy,” Schuster said.

Schuster said there are several indicators of the success of the downtown projects. During the massive streetscape overhaul, which included tearing up the streets, Schuster said they lost few businesses. However, she said most of the downtown buildings are now occupied as the redevelopment drew new businesses to the area, including , and .

Still, there are some projects Schuster said the village wants to see completed, particularly the when the economy ground to a halt. Schuster said they are beginning to shop around for new developers after to assist in selling the available properties.

While no recommendations have been brought to the village board, EDC members have considered expanding demolition grants, and landscape grants to beautify the Ogden Avenue corridor. EDC chairman Scott Fotre stated at the Nov. 14 village board workshop meeting that the committee sought the village board's input on establishing a TIF district, which he believed would make the village 'more competitive' in attracting development.

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