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Cheeseburger in Paradise's Former Space Not The Only Vacancy Downtown

City officials were set to meet with leasing agent to discuss vacancy Thursday.

In the wake of Cheeseburger in Paradise’s abrupt closing two weeks ago, city officials and the leasing company of the former tenant were set to meet this week. At the same time, one of two economic development initiatives designed to improve the downtown area, has yet to benefit one business since starting in the fall of last year.

City officials were scheduled to meet with representatives from NEI Management & Development of McHenry Thursday, the property management company that represents landlords in Metropolitan Square that lost tenant Cheeseburger in Paradise, Michael Bartholomew, director of community and economic development said. The Jimmy Buffet themed restaurant closed March 11.

Bartholomew said they would discuss the leasing company’s vacancy rate, what its plan is to reoccupy those spaces, what challenges the company faces and if there is anything the city can do to help.

Metropolitan Square occupancy rate less than 80 percent 

Tom Fremarek, managing partner of Cheeseburger in Paradise, which was located at 1472 Market St., told the Des Plaines Journal that increases in rent the last two years caused the business to be too expensive to operate.

Mike Neises, property manager for NEI Management & Development of McHenry, told the Daily Herald the rent increases the last few years were caused by Cook County raising property tax assessments.

At the meeting city officials also will ask representatives from the leasing company what exactly was the difficulty with Cheeseburger in Paradise that caused the business to close, Bartholomew said.

“They may not know, but we’ll ask the question,” Bartholomew said.

The downtown retail space formerly occupied by Cheeseburger in Paradise joins a number of other vacant properties in that area.

The Daily Herald reported Metropolitan Square’s occupancy rate is slightly less than 80 percent, according to property managers, with the Shop-N-Save grocery store covering a third of the total square footage.

In a , a brief survey of one square block in the downtown area showed approximately half of the storefronts vacant.

City paid $228,569 in business assistance between 2005-2010

The city offers two economic development initiatives to encourage business, Bartholomew said.

The initiatives are funded by tax increment financing funds, or TIFs. A TIF district is created when a local government freezes the tax base on properties within a certain area. All new property taxes in that district, which are generated by an increase in property value since the year the TIF started, are put into a special fund established for redevelopment projects within the district.

The first economic development initiative, The Façade Improvement Program, financially assists businesses located downtown, in the TIF 1 district, to improve facades with signs, awning, lighting and paint, Bartholomew wrote in an email to Des Plaines Patch.

The city approves grants for up to $5K for improving facades, after which, funds drop to about a third, said Gay Miezin, producer at Stage One Productions and the project manager overseeing the Des Plaines Theatre renovation.

The theatre was a participant in the Façade Improvement Program last year, according to a map Bartholomew sent Des Plaines Patch.

Thirty-four businesses were approved and followed through on façade improvement projects with grants from the Façade Improvement Program between 2005 and 2010, for which the city paid $228,569, Bartholomew wrote in the email.

The second grant, the Downtown Business Assistance Program, approved by the City Council in September, is similar to the Façade Improvement Program, but allows flexibility for interior work, Bartholomew wrote in the email.

Bartholomew wrote thus far no businesses have been approved for, or completed, the Downtown Assistance Program.

City loses economic development coordinator

Bartholomew, who took the position of director of community and economic development in January, said two other positions in his department, deputy director of community and economic development and economic development coordinator, were eliminated due to budget cuts.

The economic development coordinator was responsible for proactively encouraging businesses to move to Des Plaines, Bartholomew said. With that position gone, no one is doing that job, he said. Bartholomew said his role was to supervise the building and planning divisions.

“It’s hard to say how much of a difference it could really make,” Bartholomew said. “When any city or any organization has some financial difficulty you have to go and tighten your belt, and you have to do what your core business is and you have to continue to do what you do best. And we are providing those core services still, and having an economic development coordinator – not every city has one of those. I think Des Plaines was fortunate for quite awhile to have one.”

Business owners may be in the dark about city assistance

Miezin said it took her a long time reviewing the city’s website to find information on the city’s two economic development grants. She said she was aware of one new business owner, with plans to open Miner Gyros, 1470 Miner St., near the theatre, who was unaware of the grants until she told him about them.

“I don’t think [the Downtown Business Assistance Program] has been very well publicized or advertised,” Miezin said.

Dimitra Zafiriadis, co-owner of Spa Di Da, 1473 Market St., said certainly if the downtown area had more occupancy, that would increase traffic. But she said the area currently has a decent amount of traffic, and the city has brought a decent amount of exposure to Metropolitan Square.

“From a business standpoint your business ultimately has to speak for itself,” Zafiriadis said.

Robi Schnetzer March 26, 2011 at 12:28 AM
two examples of what works Mt. Prospect and Arlington Heights. What Des Plaines failed at was creating an entire downtown into something special. I drive through Arlington Heights i don't see an old theater with some movie i have never heard (yes i know they are working hard to create a new interior for plays and such.. every teenagers dream im sure. Psst. they have disposable income) of or an entire block of 1950's brick front stores that i would never need to go to scratch that 2 blocks plus and entire area east of the library.. well thats another story. Does anyone think anyone will being going to a new prime time destination of the casino and think i really need to come to des plaines i heard they have two restaurants and a shop and save. We need to use this casino to every advantage we can. Hey bring your business here we are the newest hot spot in the northwest burbs. we should have been on this the moment we knew the casino was coming here. Where are the new hotels cafes diners shops ENTERTAINMENT??????????? Even with the current economic situation everyone goes to the casino and spends and you know what they see some where to eat on the way they will stop and when they are leaving they see a store that has something more that shoe repair im sure they will stop in.
Bob Furst March 26, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Ok #DesPlaines City Council. If we wish to increase business ventures in #DesPlaines, we need to devote resources to it!
Robert March 26, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Metropolitan Square is the 21st century version of the Des Plaines Mall. I don't think the city planners do not know what the hell they are doing. Quit making Des Plaines like other suburbs, instead focus on your strengths. For example, instead of trying to close down the Choo Choo restaurant, permote it. Showing Vaudeville shows at the Des Plaines theater is a start, but how bought showing classic movies? For ideas, go down to the Music Box theater in Chicago. When they show a classic film, the place is packed with people. After the show they go to the local restaurants.
joseph conoscenti April 06, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Every one knows that a person goes to a casino to spend money. He will eat there, and then goes straight home. He does not go into the town, walk through the downtown area, maby take in a movie, and dine at the local eatery. In refrence to the 1950 brick front stores, well I need them to buy a pair of shoes, next door to have them repaired, and again next door to have my suit cleaned. all in 1950 brick front stores. Any time any one would rather live in Mt Prospect or Arlington Heights, well move. I live in Des Plaines , maby because they have an entire block of 1950 brick front stores.
joseph conoscenti April 11, 2011 at 04:22 AM
Some people think that we should spend our tax dollers to try to draw the casino people back into Des Plaines to spend more money. It's a dream that will never come true. These people are tired, their taped out, and all they want to do is get home. These tax dollers belong to the people of Des Plaines. They should be used to make us more comfortable by making improvements that directly effect us.
kurt swanson April 11, 2011 at 07:57 PM
strip club right down the block from elgin casino . maybe d.p., needs one

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