Geneva’s former Little Owl back on track for redevelopment

City council OKs $290K in economic incentive to assist in renovation cost

The Geneva City Council this week approved a $290,000 economic incentive plan to facilitate the renovation of the former Little Owl/Flagstone building on the corner of routes 31 and 38.

The iconic building at 101-105 W. State St. has been vacant since August 2019.

Economic Development Director Cathleen Tymoszenko said the economic incentive is a combination of a $138,000 grant from American Rescue Plan Act and a sales tax rebate up to $151,200.

The ARPA funds are intended to facilitate the completion of the front facade, in phase one of the renovation.

“There is timing for the phase one, also because we are under restrictions for the federal funds,” Tymoszenko said. “Those funds have to be expended by Dec. 31, 2025. And so the grantee is obligated to apply for those funds, prior to Nov. 1, 2025.”

Last November, the council approved a similar incentive for the building’s new owner. But the company that intended to buy the property, the Woodmont Companies, could not complete the financing and the deal fell through in December, officials said.

Now, a new owner, Five Star Hospitality Holdings LLC, is on board, and coupled with a reduction in the sale price by the owners, the building’s renovation is on track again, officials said.

Construction is to begin this spring with an opening expected this fall.

Five Star Hospitality Holdings is owned by Joseph Tota of Lisle, who also owns Tapville Social in Naperville. Geneva would become a new Tapville Social location.

Tota said he expected to close in the next 60 days.

“I am glad you came back to the table with a new deal,” 4th Ward Alderwoman Amy Mayer said. “I’m very grateful to hear that this is moving forward as I think everybody in Geneva is (eager) to see that buildling back in action.”

Known as the historic Wrate Block building, the two-story former Little Owl/Flagstone began as a wood-framed structure circa 1837, two years after Geneva was established in 1835, according to the city’s historic records.

The wood structure was replaced with the current limestone building in 1853.

The Arbizzani family operated it as The Little Owl from 1947, with Flagstone as an addition in 2007. It closed in August 2019 and was sold in September to Nick Smith of the Karas Restaurant Group and the director of “Munger Road” for nearly $1.1 million, property records show.

It was to be the 13th restaurant in the group, which includes five Rookies All-American Pub and Grills, four Village Squires, two Alexander’s Cafes and one Old Republic Kitchen & Bar.

Smith did not complete the building’s restoration and put it back on the market in 2021, saying that the Old Republic in Elgin grew so much that it needed his attention.

“I was really excited about it,” Smith had said then about the former Little Owl. “We were coming along with construction, even during the pandemic of 2020.”

The plan was to have a second location for the Old Republic brand in Geneva, he said.

Smith, as Castle Investment Properties Inc., still owns the former Little Owl/Flagstone site, Geneva Township property records show.

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