Aurora will renew attempts to turn New York Street west of the Fox River into a "Restaurant Row" under an agreement that will reimburse a local developer up to $750,000 for property acquisition, renovations and construction of a public deck and plaza.
The agreement approved Tuesday night is the second in five years trying to bring more restaurants to the downtown street near Hollywood Casino and established restaurants Ballydoyle Irish Pub and Chef Amaury's.
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"When people come to our downtown, they need more places to interact and to eat," said David Dorgan, development consultant with Seize the Future, a long-term plan started in 2000 to revitalize downtown Aurora.
This time around, Vernon LaVia of Aurora, husband of 83rd District state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, has formed a company to renovate and redevelop 29 and 31-33 W. New York St. The company, 5 Way LLC, also will be responsible for developing a riverside addition to 29 W. New York St. and building a deck and public plaza along Pinney Street, which is north of New York Street at a lower elevation.
Plans call for Aliano's Ristorante of Batavia to open a second location on the redeveloped street, and LaVia said German, barbecue and Thai restaurants are "warm to the concept" of locating in other new restaurant spaces to be developed. The plan approved Tuesday will help "to create the restaurant infrastructure in our downtown," Mayor Tom Weisner said.
The $750,000 to reimburse LaVia once certain development milestones are met comes from a downtown tax increment financing district that has almost $3 million to spend before it expires in nine years, Finance Director Brian Caputo said.
When an area is designated as a TIF district, property taxes paid to local governments are frozen for up to 23 years. Any extra property tax money collected within the area goes into a special fund controlled by the city. The money in the fund then can be used to help pay for certain improvements.
Restaurant Row redevelopment is exactly the type of project TIF district funds should support, several aldermen said Tuesday before voting 9-1 to approve the agreement with LaVia. Alderman Rick Lawrence voted against the plan.
"We all know TIF funds were to ensure the success of businesses in downtown," Alderman-at-Large Richard Irvin said. "That's exactly what I believe the city will be attempting to do -- insuring success by infusing TIF dollars in the early stages of development to make sure that development becomes successful."
Developer Steve Arwady and a group of investors who were promised up to $1.25 million in TIF district funds in the 2009 deal were not successful in bringing locations of The Billy Goat Tavern and Luigi's Pizza to New York Street, nor in building a deck and plaza on Pinney.
Two of the buildings the previous developers were supposed to renovate and lease -- 31-33 and 35 W. New York St. -- are in foreclosure, Dorgan said. LaVia himself has owned 29 W. New York St. since 1997, and it is not in foreclosure.
City funding of $250,000 will help LaVia's company buy 31-33 W. New York St., which is carrying $839,000 of debt, at a lower price than its total debt burden, said Bill Wiet, Aurora's development director.
The other foreclosed building, 35 W. New York St., carries $369,000 of debt, but the city has negotiated a separate agreement to buy that building using $280,000 of TIF district funds, Wiet said. That agreement was approved 9-1 Tuesday night, with Lawrence providing the lone opposition.
Despite the failure of the developers chosen in 2009, the city paid $500,000 of the $1.25 million approved under that agreement. The $750,000 approved but not spent is the same money the city now will be making available for LaVia's company as it aims to bring more restaurants to the area.
Irvin said the original developers should be held responsible for their misuse of money and failure to follow through, but that shouldn't prevent the city from moving forward.
"We can't hold new developers responsible for mistakes of old developers that are now in the past," Irvin said. "We have to embrace new development and hope that these projects are successful in the future."
Wiet said the agreement with LaVia's company contains new provisions to make sure reimbursements are not given until work is completed. City funds will be disbursed in stages when architectural plans are approved, renovations are under way, Aliano's or another suitable restaurant gains a certificate of occupancy and when the Pinney Street deck has been inspected, according to the agreement.
"Because of the mistakes made in the past, there will be new checks and balances to ensure those mistakes are not made in the future," Irvin said.