City Council passed four measures on Feb. 27 that together will bring a wine bar, “Ward Eight,” to 629 Howard St. The measures further the longstanding dream of Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, to redevelop the Howard Street corridor. If all goes according to plan, Ward Eight plans to open in mid-July.
The wine bar proposal is the latest in a series of moves by the City to take control of the economic development of the Howard Street corridor between Chicago and Ridge avenues. The City has purchased two buildings, changed zoning to limit storefront churches along the stretch and agreed to pump about $600,000 into one of the newly purchased buildings to construct theatre space.
Ward Eight will be run by a young couple, Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer, who will live above the bar in one of two residential apartments in the building. The two say they have extensive experience managing and designing wine store and bar space. They met when they both worked at In Fine Spirits in Andersonville, said Ms. Carlson.
“It would only seem fitting that we would open a bar some day,” said Mr. Modeer. “And we wanted to open it … in an area that had a need, and not a saturated [street].” Both Ms. Carlson and Mr. Modeer said they were excited about the opportunity and could not wait to get started.
The first of the four measures was to authorize the City Manager to enter into a residential lease with the couple for one of the two residential units in the building. Rent will be the HUD market rate for the area. The City is putting about $40,000 into renovating the two residential units.
Second, the City will give the business a loan of $130,000 for 10 years at 4 percent interest. The money will be used to set up the wine bar, including furniture, fixtures, inventory and decor.
The funding comes from the Community Development Block Grant, and as the loan is repaid, the money will go back to CDBG for use on other projects, said Ald. Rainey. Third, the business will be provided a $100,000 tenant-improvement allowance to construct a “vanilla box” (plain shell with utilities) in the retail space. The money comes from the Howard Street TIF, and is in the form of a grant and not a loan.
Fourth, and the lynchpin of the proposal, Council authorized the City Manager to enter into a commercial lease for the retail space. Under the lease terms, the business pays no rent during its first year, but $2,000 a month beginning in year two. Ward Eight has the option to purchase the building after three years and will get credit toward the purchase price for all rent paid.
The total City outlay, including what the City paid to acquire the building, the tenant improvement allowance, the business loan, and the residential- unit construction costs, will be about $375,000, exclusive of the business loan. If Ward Eight buys the building, the City stands to get $362,650 back.
Ald. Rainey urged passage. “This is a building that has never paid a penny of sales tax … No one ever hired anyone. Ever. So the advantages we have here are just tremendous,” she said. The project should be a prime example of exactly what TIF funds can accomplish, she said.
Council support was near unanimous. Council voted to suspend the rules for immediate passage so construction and the liquor license application process could begin.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, was the lone holdout, citing philosophical differences. “I believe funding should be more focused on infrastructure and public improvements,” he said. He also said he felt that particular businesses were getting City help while others were not. “How do you look the other businesses in the eye?” he said, adding that things like sales tax relief might be more appropriate.
Ald. Wilson hastened to add that he had nothing against Ward Eight, and wished them nothing but success. If the business succeeds, the City wins as well. But if it does not, there [is] a substantial outlay, he said.
Look for the wine to flow in July. Ald. Rainey promised to buy all the aldermen a drink.