CHAMPAIGN — City council members on Tuesday night OK'd up to $200,000 in tax rebates for the owner of the building that is expected be leased to Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in downtown Champaign.
The tax rebates are meant to assist building owner William Youngerman in a $1.3 million renovation of the 114-year-old Illinois Central Railroad Depot, just off the corner of Market and Chestnut streets. The building needs sprinkler systems, new electrical and plumbing systems, new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, a new roof and tuckpointing, said city planner T.J. Blakeman. The owner also plans to making landscaping and lighting improvements in the parking lot.
That will mean the 4,113-square-foot building will essentially be gutted before the restaurant can move in — currently projected for mid-2014 at the earliest.
For the last 40 or so years, the railroad depot has been used for storage — Champaign police had been using it for some time to keep impounded bicycles. Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight called it an exciting opportunity to renovate a building which has not been used for human occupation since 1924 when the passenger station for the railroad moved.
"It's pretty remarkable, if you think about it, trying to put a viable use back into that building," Knight said.
The city will rebate up to $200,000 in sales and food and beverage taxes generated by the restaurant over five years. City council members on Tuesday said they are excited by the project.
"It seems like an incredibly wise use of our resources to reinvest in that area," said council member Paul Faraci.
Some council members added, however, that they would like to start thinking about how to tie in the area east of the railroad tracks into downtown Champaign. Faraci said it could be time for an economic study of North First Street.
"I think it would be a mistake not to have those discussions about North First Street as we tie in to development in this area," Faraci said.
The agreement with depot owner Youngerman is not contingent on any particular tenant occupying the building. If the Black Dog deal falls through, it could still apply to any business that opts to move in and the taxes that business would generate.
City officials have been using tax rebates instead of cash-up-front development incentives lately — the city pays only when the project gets off the ground, and even then, they reimburse only tax revenue that would not exist had the project never launched.
City council members have approved similar — albeit much larger deals — lately with the Hyatt Place hotel under construction at Neil and Main streets and car dealerships being built north of Interstate 74
Blakeman called it "a really critical piece" of development in downtown.
Council member Tom Bruno asked about its roof and wondered if the text would be preserved: "CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, POP. 93,500, 'Fastest Growing Community In Downstate Illinois.'" He said that kind of imagery can become iconic for frequent Amtrak riders, who pass on daily routes across the parking lot.
"I would like to see that preserved — even though it's inaccurate — because of its charm, its quaintness," Bruno said.