Wheeling revamps business grant program to boost funding for restaurant projects
A Wheeling grant program that helps local business owners pay for site improvements is tripling the amount of money available to qualifying restaurateurs.
Two grants of up to $150,000 each will be available to improve sit-down restaurant facilities, and three $50,000 grants will be available for other types of businesses. Grants previously were capped at $50,000 regardless of the business type.
Village officials also have amended the 15-year-old program's rules so funds can be used for interior improvements, not just exterior ones.
The changes reflect a desire to lure businesses -- especially restaurants -- to vacant spaces and to improve the appearances of the ones already operating in Wheeling.
"(We're) just trying to keep a competitive edge," Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said.
A new name accompanies the changes. The Facade and Building Improvement Grant Program now will be known as the Retail and Restaurant Build-Out Assistance Program.
The village board unanimously approved the program's expansion last week.
Since launching in 2005, the grant program has focused on commercial buildings within Wheeling's tax increment financing districts. Typically called TIF districts, the zones help raise money for public improvements. Property tax revenue generated by a property's increasing value or new development goes into a special fund that pays for construction efforts and other projects.
Wheeling has four TIF districts. One covers a northern stretch of Milwaukee Avenue; another covers a southern stretch of Milwaukee Avenue; one includes the Wheeling Town Center retail and residential district; and one is in the southeast part of town.
The grant program originally focused on facade improvements. It expanded in 2011 to fund other exterior projects, such as parking lot repairs and landscaping.
Business owners or property owners are reimbursed for up to half a project's cost. Twenty-two grants totaling $584,000 have been awarded, Sfondilis said.
In the new program, sit-down restaurants are eligible for more funds because they typically have greater construction costs, Economic Development Director Patrick Ainsworth said in a memo.
To be eligible for a $150,000 grant, a restaurant must be within the Town Center TIF district or the North Milwaukee Avenue district. Businesses in the southeast TIF district are only eligible for $50,000 grants for exterior work.
No grants are available in the southern TIF district because it's home to industrial businesses, not retail or restaurants, Sfondilis said.
Projects must be permanent improvements, such as the installation of walk-in coolers, electrical or plumbing upgrades, the installation of bathroom fixtures or parking lot resurfacing.
For the first year of the expanded program, one grant of up to $150,000 will be available for sit-down restaurants in each of the two qualifying districts, for a total of up to $300,000. Additionally, one grant of up to $50,000 will be available for various businesses in each of those two zones and the southeast TIF district, for a maximum $150,000.
However, more grants could be awarded with board approval, Sfondilis said.
Restaurant owners who receive grants cannot apply for more funds later.
"We are going to spread the wealth of this program as much as possible," Ainsworth told the village board.