Aldermen voted Monday to grant nearly $8,000 in façade improvement funds to Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles, a new restaurant planned for Evanston’s west side. The grant comes on top of $200,000 in city funds that council members agreed to loan the business in April.
While council members ultimately voted 7-2 to grant the money, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) and Judy Fiske (1st Ward), who voted no, both said they had serious concerns about spending the money.
Set to open soon at 2424 W. Dempster St., the restaurant will be the third location of Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles, which also has locations in Bronzeville and Oak Park. Aldermen approved a $200,000 loan to the business this spring, using some of the $500,000 allocated in 2012 to the city’s economic development fund business attraction and expansion account.
Burrus said she believed façade improvements were part of the business plan the council approved when it OK’d the loan, and for that reason, she could not support the façade grant.
“The façade was part of the original construction budget, so coming back is just double-dipping, in my estimation,” Burrus said. “Do we say yes to every business that walks in here with a good story?”
Ald. Fiske also said she believed that façade improvements had been included in the original construction documents presented to council, and said the city needed to take a hard look at how it used economic development funds.
“I’m not going to put down anybody else’s business, but we need to be able to ask these questions,” she said.
Ald Ann. Rainey, however, said she believed the façade grant was a perfectly reasonable request from the business. The city’s Façade Improvement Program allows owners of commercial buildings and tenants leasing the ground floor of commercial buildings to apply for funds to improve the appearance of their property. Several local businesses have recently applied for and used grant money through the program, including Bagel Art, Egea Spa, Koi, Oceanique and Unicorn Café.
“I think in this case we are following our policy,” Rainey said. “All this is in an application the same as all the other applications we’ve approved for a façade rebate.”
Ald. Peter Braithwaite, who oversees the second ward where the restaurant would be located, said he, too, saw the grant and loan as separate pools of money. Furthermore, he said the restaurant would be a positive development for the west side, where many of the city’s vacancies are located. Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles, in particularly, will occupy the site of the former Napa Auto service station, which has been empty for roughly three years, according to city documents.
“It’s been proven in Bronzeville, it’s been proven in Oak Park and now we have an opportunity to bring it to Evanston,” Braithwaite said.
The business should cause property tax receipts to increase, he added, as well as bring in new jobs. Restaurant co-owners Rosemary Barnett Malone, Tonya Van Dyke-Johnson and Darnell Johnson have said they expect to hire roughly 76 people, and will make an effort to hire at least three-quarters of their employees from Evanston.
Speaking before the city council Monday, Darnell Johnson promised the restaurant would be a “first-class” establishment, “something that the west side of Evanston could be proud of.”