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posted: 6/9/2010 12:01 AM

Des Plaines considers incentive program to fill vacant storefronts

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Tired of looking at vacant storefronts in downtown Des Plaines?

Des Plaines city officials surely are, and they seem to be embracing an idea they hope will draw new retail businesses to downtown.

The city's Economic Development Committee is recommending the city council adopt a new retail incentive program offering a carrot to businesses that agree to fill those vacant storefronts.

The program's target area would be along Miner Street between Lee and Des Plaines River roads. The area, which includes the Des Plaines Public Library plaza and Metropolitan Square, sits within the downtown tax increment financing district.

Any business that decides to relocate in the downtown corridor would be eligible to participate in the program, said 3rd Ward Alderman Matt Bogusz.

"There's more than a handful of vacant storefronts in downtown," said Bogusz, who first floated the idea. "It's not really the number, it's really the location and complexion. We have to focus on downtown because we want to concentrate our efforts on building momentum."

Bogusz's proposes offering businesses up to a $5,000 incentive to help with expenses such as rent, marketing, advertising, moving costs, build out, signage, and physical improvements.

The seed money for the program would come from a $50,000 reciprocal fund set up with TIF district revenues, so that it doesn't affect the city's general fund, he said.

Sales taxes generated by the new business would go toward replenishing that reciprocal fund first.

"After the full incentive amount is paid back the remainder would be gravy, it would all go to the general fund," Bogusz said. "Presently, we don't have a program on the books which incentivizes new retail establishments."

Des Plaines is by no means a trailblazer in this area. A few suburban communities - Elmhurst, Mount Prospect, Lisle and Wheaton - have been experimenting with incentive programs for years.

"It's not a fix-all," Bogusz said. "This whole proposal is meant to give us a position of strength as we emerge from this recession. We want to be able to compete in the Northwest corridor so we have to step up our game."

The city's Economic Development Commission will review the retail incentive program Wednesday and offer its input before the proposal reaches the city council. The meeting begins at 7:30 a.m. in room 101 of City Hall, 1420 Miner St.