City looks at success of grant

By Anthony Antoine |

Published 08/10 2014 10:39PM

Updated 08/14 2014 10:58AM

URBANA -- A grant used to help fund new businesses is about to expire and city leaders are evaluating its success. Downtown Urbana is a tax increment financing district, or TIF.

It means the city takes money from property taxes and creates programs to help new business owners. The goal is to make the area more attractive. The TIF program has been around for more than 30 years and it's expiring in 2016.

The city hired a consulting firm to determine if the program is working, but at least one business owner believes it is. A few months ago this space belonged to Prime light Studios. Now it's home to a vegan restaurant and juice bar; a dream realized for Linda Lehovic and her husband Brian.

Lehovic says, "As soon as we saw this space was open, we fell in love with it."

They say the place needs a lot of work and money, but grant money from the city is on its way.

"We've already applied for two and then a big, third one. We really can't imagine doing it without their support." says Lehovic.

The money is coming from property taxes. Charlie Smyth is with the Urbana City Council.

He says, "It is a spiral upward if you do it right. By reinvesting the money, you can get projects going that, in turn, attract other people."

Smyth believes in giving new businesses these types of incentives, but there's another side to this program.

Smyth says, "In Illinois, it has a mixed track record. It takes all of the taxing bodies’ money. It takes money from the school district and the park district in particular."

It's money some say could be put to better use in those areas. When a store goes out of business, the grant money is lost. But, as one business closes, another opens. For these owners, it's help they needed.

Lehovic says, "It is a big financial investment and, to know that a little bit of that money will come back to us through the grants, makes it a little bit easier. It makes us feel really wanted."

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