Rolling Meadows incentive program would try to lure restaurants to Kirchoff Road
Rolling Meadows is poised to relaunch an economic development tool, used by only a handful of other Northwest suburbs, in an effort to revitalize its struggling downtown corridor beset by vacancies.
The proposed incentives, set to be formally considered by the city council Tuesday, would offer a mix of city fee and tax rebates and building improvement grants to mom-and-pop restaurants and retailers that open anywhere within Rolling Meadows. A higher percentage of sales and food and beverage tax refunds would be given to those businesses that locate along Kirchoff Road between Rohlwing and Wilke roads, long considered the city's traditional downtown.
"We want to build up Kirchoff Road as our downtown area," said Alderman Jenifer Vinezeano, whose Ward 4 includes the Kirchoff corridor. "We know that we're a pass-through on Kirchoff Road. We know that. Algonquin Road, Golf Road -- that traffic -- it kind of sells itself. So we were trying to give a higher incentive for Kirchoff Road to really try to fill that corridor up."
City leaders hope the proposed incentives may help lure businesses back to Kirchoff, where there's at least a dozen vacancies, including the recent closure of a popular Chase Bank branch in a Rolling Meadows Shopping Center outlot.
The tax breaks would be an expanded version of an expired financial incentive program, which City Manager Barry Krumstok said helped attract new restaurants to town that are still in business and doing well. One of two new eateries on Kirchoff got $9,000 from the city.
"It's just another tool in the toolbox when we have people come in," Krumstok said. "It's something that makes us a little different from other municipalities. It's not a lot of money ... (but) every little bit helps."
In the Northwest suburbs, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Niles and Wheeling have business assistance programs for things like facade, signage and build-out costs, but Wheeling specifically offers incentives to lure restaurants. In December, that village tripled the amount of money available to qualifying restaurateurs, making two grants of up to $150,000 each available to improve sit-down eateries. Grants were previously capped at $50,000.
Under the proposed Rolling Meadows initiative, anyone who purchases or leases space for a new restaurant will get 40% of city food and beverage taxes rebated on their anniversary, 20% a year later, and 10% a year after that. If they're on Kirchoff, they'll get 60%, 40% and 20%, respectively.
Retailers that generate city sales taxes -- such as a hair salon, but not an insurance firm -- would get similar rebates: 15% of the city home rule sales tax in the first year, then 10% and 5% in each of the next two years. On Kirchoff, they'll be eligible for 25%, 20% and 15% rebates, respectively.
Additionally, the city would refund up to $5,000 in permit fees -- half of it after the business opening, and the other half a year later -- meant to help with purchase and build-out costs.
What wasn't part of the old incentive program is a proposed facade and interior improvements grant of up to $10,000, which would likewise be split at the opening and anniversary.
The incentives would generally apply to noncorporate, independent businesses that don't have more than three locations -- though the city manager and council would have some discretion -- as long as the businesses aren't delinquent in paying any other city taxes, fees or penalties.
Aldermen endorsed the proposal during a committee discussion last month, though some questioned whether it was equitable across the whole city.
"I think the plan looks good, but there's something sitting with me about the Kirchoff Road versus everywhere else if we're really trying to help mom-and-pop shops," said Alderman Karen McHale of the far west side Ward 1. "I understand that we don't want to give another McDonald's any incentives if they're going to go on Algonquin Road, but if there is a bakery or something like that that did feel their location would be more beneficial in a certain area of the city, I don't know if that would look as them being penalized."
Alderman Kevin O'Brien, who along with Vinezeano sits on the city economic development committee that worked on the incentive program, said the council's emphasis on the Kirchoff corridor was used as a "north star" during discussions. But O'Brien, whose Ward 3 also includes the downtown area, said there is leniency built into the plan, and the council has final say.
"So we would be able to look at John Smith's bakery on Plum Grove (Road) and consider it for an exception basis," O'Brien said.
Aldermen are set to take a first reading vote Tuesday, and a final second reading vote June 22. The program would expire in five years.