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On Aug. 11 City Council approved a request to reimburse the Bravo restaurant chain up to $25,000 for “streetscape improvements” at its new Italian restaurant on the northeast corner of Church Street and Maple Avenue. The request spawned a lengthy debate at the City’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting held on Aug. 6, with two members of EDC questioning why the payment should be made. City Council, however, readily approved the payment out of the Downtown II TIF funds by a vote of 7 to 1, with Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, casting the sole no vote.

At the EDC meeting Dennis Marino, interim director of the City’s Community Development Department, said staff recommended that the City contribute $25,000 for partial reimbursement of the cost of awnings, wrought iron railings and signage, which he said will enhance the exterior appearance of Bravo’s restaurant façade and the plaza in front of the restaurant. He said Bravo was putting more than $700,000 into retrofitting the space, which was previously occupied by a Wolfgang Puck Café.

Mr. Marino added that City staff was prioritizing other capital improvements in the area, including a widening of the sidewalk on Maple Avenue, a potential enhancement of the plaza in front of Borders and modifications to the Maple Avenue Parking Garage to address lighting and convenience parking issues. The Bravo improvements are “part of an overall package,” he said.

At the ECD meeting Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the improvements proposed for reimbursement would enhance the area and $25,000 was a very reasonable amount. “I don’t think there’s a better way to spend the TIF money,” she said.

Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said, “I think this is terrific, especially in this economy. We should welcome them.”

Ald. Moran opposed the payment. He said Bravo had 16 or 18 restaurants nationwide and was a highly successful business. “This is not expenditure to draw them here. They are here.” He also questioned whether the plaza was truly a public place, because the tables outside would be fenced off. “Nobody can simply walk up and sit down in the plaza there,” he said.

EDC member Daniel Minnimeyer also opposed the payment. He said Bravo had already committed to locate in Evanston, and the payment would not be made to induce them to come here.

Mr. Minnimeyer also questioned making a payment toward the awning, which would promote Bravo’s corporate identification. He said paying them $25,000 “would be good will. It would be an ‘Atta boy!’ … But why would we pay them something after they’re already committed? It’s a gift.”

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the public would benefit from the payment: “It’s a public area. …That whole area is used as a public space.” He added, “Improving the viability of existing businesses is a valid purpose of a TIF.” The City’s TIF consultant, Robert Richlycki of Kane, McKenna and Associates, Inc., confirmed the reimbursement was appropriate from a legal standpoint.

Mr. Marino said the Bravo restaurant is expected to open in September.