After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, aldermen voted 9-2 with three absent to approve a redevelopment agreement with Baku Patel that will allow him to build a law office — an estimated $230,000 to $260,000 investment — at 401 N. Vermilion St. across from the public library downtown.
The agreement will provide Patel with about $65,000 in assistance to develop the project, which supporters said will clean up a longtime eyesore on a highly visible corner and get the property back on the tax rolls.
"We like to see the downtown rebuilt and new facilities being put up," Ward 7 Alderman Steve Foster said, adding that it will help revitalize downtown and possibly spark more investment in the area.
The property once housed Smith Auto Repair, a gas station and auto-repair shop owned and operated by Harold Smith. Because of the site's history, the city is addressing some environmental concerns through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfield program, which identifies problems and provides guidance on how to eliminate them.
Patel — a private-practice attorney who has offices in Danville and Urbana — said he's currently renting an office at 149 N. Vermilion St., Danville. While he has "fantastic" landlords, he said the one-room office is too small for his staff of four attorneys, and he needs more room to expand his practice, which is growing.
Patel said he worked with Urbana officials to build a new professional office building on a distressed piece of property on University Avenue that had also housed a gas station. Two-and-a-half years later, his practice now has four attorneys, secretaries and a bookkeeper, and the city has recouped its investment through property and money his staff spends doing business in town.
"My goal is to do the exact same thing" in Danville, he told aldermen. The brick building will feature two offices, two conference rooms, a secretarial area and a break room, and there will be room to expand.
"I plan to hire more attorneys here," Patel said, adding he can't expand his Urbana building because of a lack of space.
"What I'm trying to do is add to the revitalization of that area and downtown Danville, and help the community that helped me when I got out of the Navy and started working in Danville," Patel said, adding if all goes as planned, he hopes to break ground on the project by the end of the year and open his office by the beginning of summer.
The proposed site sits in the city's Midtown Tax Increment Financing District, and the city would use TIF-district funds for the redevelopment.
Planning and zoning manager Christopher Milliken said the city would buy the property from Smith for $55,000; demolish the existing building and remove pavement for another $20,000; and enroll the property in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's remediation program, which would address any environmental issues. Once the agency issues a letter clearing the property of remediation, which will take several months, the city would sell the property to Patel for $35,000.
Patel would then build on that corner. The city also would reimburse Patel a portion of his property taxes up to $25,000 for 12 years.
Initially, some aldermen and residents questioned whether the city would see a return on the investment. But others pointed out the project would "significantly" increase the property value and the amount of property taxes that the taxing district would eventually gain.
"I've gone back and forth on this," Ward 1 Alderman Rickey Williams said, adding that he went into the meeting expecting to oppose the agreement. "As much as I hate to give away money, sometimes you have to do that in order to gain," he said, adding that the city will finally be able to remove an eyesore.
He also pointed out that the Midtown TIF-district funds can only be used to redevelop properties within the district.