After many delays, Des Plaines authorizes condemnation of former Leona’s building

After nearly a year of discussions and delays, Des Plaines officials have taken a key step toward condemning a long-vacant restaurant building in the heart of the downtown area so it can be redeveloped.

The city council on Monday authorized using eminent domain powers to forcibly purchase the former Leona’s building at 1504 Miner St.

That authorization doesn’t necessarily mean the city, which has been trying to buy the building for years, will condemn it. Rather, it allows the city to seize the property if owner Jim Karkazis won’t sell willingly after any final negotiation attempts.

“The next step would be making a best and final offer,” Mayor Andrew Goczkowski said Tuesday. “But I don’t think it’s as final … as the name implies.”

The 4,400-square-foot building has been unused since Leona’s — known for pizza and other Italian fare — closed in 2017. Located a short walk from city hall, the Des Plaines Theatre and a variety of restaurants and other businesses, it’s got a prime location in the downtown district officials have been trying to revitalize for years.

The long-vacant building at 1504 Miner St., in downtown Des Plaines used to be a Leona’s restaurant. But that operation shut down in 2017. Daily Herald file

The space nearly was filled in 2021 when a Chicago-based company wanted to open a cannabis dispensary there. That proposal initially had council support, but a majority of aldermen ultimately voted against issuing a permit for such a business that December after speaking with constituents, saying it was inappropriate in the downtown area.

Cannabis dispensaries are allowed in Des Plaines but require city council approval to operate downtown. None operate anywhere in the city.

After unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a purchase with Karkazis, the council spent several meetings last year debating whether to forcibly purchase the building. It tentatively cleared the way for a purchase through eminent domain last summer, but a final vote was needed.

That vote was delayed several times to give Karkazis time to find a tenant. He had said one entrepreneur or another was interested in leasing the building and launching businesses there.

In December, the council voted to give Karkazis until Monday to find a tenant. He apparently was unsuccessful and didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, nor could he be reached for comment Tuesday.

The council voted 7-0 to pursue acquiring the property through condemnation.

Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookman, who accused Karkazis of making “empty promise after empty promise” and has spoken in favor of seizing the land, was absent.

City officials have insisted they don’t want to be landlords at 1504 Miner and merely want to get a tax-generating business into the space.

Goczkowski is confident “a vibrant business” eventually will fill the building.

The Des Plaines City Council has authorized using eminent domain powers to acquire the former Leona’s at 1504 Miner St. Daily Herald file, 2021
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