DeKalb City Council OKs second downtown project in a month

March 14, 2017 GMT

DeKALB – After the unanimous approval of the $7.5 million Cornerstone project last month, the City Council approved a $1.2 million downtown revitalization effort during their Monday meeting.

Cohen Barnes, owner of Sundog IT at 444 E. Hillcrest Drive in DeKalb, wants to upgrade the former Moxie building at 230 E. Lincoln Highway, which has been vacant for two years, and move his growing company into it. To do this, he requested $400,000 in tax increment financing dollars.

The project was approved 7 to 1, with 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson voting no.

The renovation plans to draw businesses downtown by offering commercial space on the first floor. Sundog IT would operate on the second floor of the building, but its goal is to grow enough to make use of the entire property.

Some of the proposed renovations to the more than 8,000-square-foot property will include a new facade that will feature windows on the second floor, a new roof, an elevator and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades.

DeKalb Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick said that if the costs of these renovations are below $1.2 million, the city would donate a third of that amount instead of $400,000.

City documents also indicate that the project is not economically feasible without the TIF investment.

The due diligence period of Barnes’ purchasing agreement required an expedited response from the council for the project to move forward.

Some concerns were raised about the declining value of downtown properties.

Jacobson said that there is some fear in using a downtown building for a nonretail business since TIF funds are meant to make the downtown area a retail tax generator.

“If the reality is that buildings are worth less in value than we are going to put into them as a community, then there’s got to be a discussion about,” Jacobson said. “If they have no value, then at what point can we look at incentivizing them?”

In response, City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said that now is the time to invest in the downtown area, while TIF funding still is available and projects like Cornerstone are becoming possible.

“This is creating an energy and excitement that people want to be in downtown,” Gaura said. “This is very different from Cornerstone, so this opens the door to businesses that don’t fit that mold. This is an opportunity to reinvest in a long-term business in the community.”

Barnes said he is tentatively planning to move into the building by November.