Evanston City Council voted unanimously and without debate at its Sept. 8 meeting to “endors[e] the application of Little Bean Café… to the Cook County Assessor” for a reduction in property taxes for the former Osco drug store at 430 Asbury Ave. Once the application has been made, the Cook County Assessor’s Office will determine whether to grant the requested relief.
Cook County “offers an incentive program for projects that require significant investment” according to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s memo to City Council describing the resolution. Under the program, known as Class 7a Status, a property pays taxes based upon 10% of its assessed value rather than the normal 25%. The incentive lasts for 12 years, though in years 11 and 12 the assessed tax rate goes to 15%, then to 20%.
The former Osco Drug property is somewhat unique in that “CVS assumed all leases held by stand-alone Osco Drug Pharmacies when CVS entered the Chicago market nearly ten years ago,” according to the memo.
Little Beans will sublease the property from Osco until 2019. CVS is responsible for paying property taxes under its lease, and as a result the tax break if granted, will actually go to CVS. After 2019, Little Beans is expected to continue under a new lease, under which they will be responsible for paying property taxes, and they will receive the remaining tax break.
Rob Spengler, an owner of Little Beans, said, “It is somewhat a requirement to get the property tax rate down” so that CVS can offer the tax break back in the form of construction allowances. According to the staff memo, construction is expected to cost about $680,000, with another $290,000 needed for “interior equipment and structures.”
Should all go well, Little Beans is expected to open in mid January 2015, said co-owner Shannon Valko. The Café will be a “play café” where parents can sit and eat or drink while their kids play in the 14,000-square-foot interior play space.
The new Little Beans will be similar to the owners’ existing location in Lincoln Park, but larger. The new play café will have two play areas, one for kids ages 0 to 6 and a second for those 5 to 12, plus a café space and a small gymnasium. A drive-through for coffee, open early enough for area school teachers to use, is also planned.
Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward skirts the property and who, along with Alderman Colleen Burrus, 9th Ward (who was absent from the meeting) has long sought an acceptable tenant for the vacant Osco space, praised Little Beans. “I really appreciate your perseverance on this,” she said. “For the last nine years no one has been able to pull off what you’re about to pull off.” Negotiating with the current landlord and CVS has proven very challenging. All the while, the property “has remained vacant and deteriorating,” said Ald. Rainey.
Should Cook County refuse the application, there is no way of predicting whether the project will move forward and how long, if it does not, 430 Asbury Ave. could remain vacant.