New restaurant planned for vacant Geneva building won't get economic incentives
A proposal to assist with the revitalization of a vacant downtown building was narrowly shot down by Geneva aldermen, some of whom expressed concerns over offering economic incentives to a new business amid the coronavirus crisis.
The city council voted 5-4 Monday to deny the agreement with Cody and Chanel Renkosik, operating as Industry House LLC, who had planned to buy and transform the property at 124 W. State St. into a second location of their Ottawa restaurant, Burger and Sushi House.
Mayor Kevin Burns now plans to bring the proposal back to the city council Aug. 17, saying he wants to have a more "robust discussion" and correct some misunderstandings regarding the potential sales tax rebate.
"I think we could take some time to reconsider some of the comments made by folks who, I believe, may have done a disservice to the overall economic well-being of the downtown," Burns said.
The Renkosiks intend to invest more than $3 million into the site, which has been empty or underused for the past few years, Economic Development Director Cathleen Tymoszenko said. The couple initially had backed away because of the high costs associated with acquiring and improving the property, she said, but a new sales contract was later negotiated, contingent upon a public gap financing option.
Under the proposed economic incentive agreement, the city would rebate 75% of the 1% municipal sales tax generated at the site over the next decade, capped at $365,200. The deal also includes the deferral of a parking fee of up to $150,000, reimbursed by sales taxes after the property owners are rebated.
Aldermen acting as a committee of the whole last month backed the proposed incentives in a 6-2 vote.
The decision was difficult for Fourth Ward Alderman Gabriel Kaven, who initially supported the measure but changed his vote Monday. Though he'd love to see a State Street vacancy filled, he said, he struggled with the size and scope of the incentive deal.
First Ward Alderman Tara Burghart, who opposed the proposal at both meetings, said she would welcome the restaurant to the community with its "great concept" and impassioned owners. But she doesn't believe it's the right time for the city to offer financial assistance for such a project.
"It's hard for me to support these kinds of incentives for a new restaurant when we have so many restaurants struggling in the current pandemic," she said.
Aldermen Robert Swanson, Dean Kilburg and Becky Hruby also cast dissenting votes.
As a non-home rule community, Geneva is limited in how it can give incentives for redevelopment, First Ward Alderman Mike Bruno said. He and Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said they believe assisting an interested investor wouldn't threaten other businesses but would rather enable change and drive foot traffic along a crucial downtown corridor.
B.A.S.H., which opened in Ottawa seven years ago, pairs sushi with burgers and other gourmet American food, the Renkosiks said. They planned to renovate the Geneva restaurant space -- formerly occupied by Bicycle Heaven and H4 Training -- to accommodate 242 people inside, with a patio and a private event space on the top level
Burns said a majority of the downtown restaurant community seemed to favor the plans and understand the proposed incentives.
"The city of Geneva is not investing a dime," he said. "In fact, it's a matter of, if the restaurant does well, then Geneva does well."