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Panel backs tax break for market

Members of Evanston's Economic Development Committee on Wednesday unanimously backed a proposal to give owners of the planned Farmer's Best market on Oakton Street up to $500,000 in sales tax rebates.

The owners are renovating the long-shuttered Osco drug store at Asbury Avenue and Oakton.

They had hoped to open the market before Thanksgiving, but Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that at a meeting earlier Wednesday with Nick Merikas, the lead partner in the store, she learned the opening will be delayed, but still should happen before Christmas.

Under the tax rebate plan the city would return half of its share of sales tax revenue to the store. The payments are designed to cover the cost of additional refrigeration equipment required by the market.

Interim Community Development Director Dennis Marino said projections by a city consultant indicate it will likely take at least six years for the store to receive the full tax break. The agreement would expire after 11 years.

The agreement, which still requires City Council approval to take effect, contains provisions that would cancel the deal if the store doesn't open by next March and that, if the store closes during its first 10 years of operation, the owner would have to return a pro-rata share of the rebate to the city.

The market, which Merikas says will feature an upscale deli counter with a large cheese selection as well as a large produce department and a selection of beer and wine offerings, has been eagerly anticipated by many residents of the south Evanston neighborhood.

Marino said the city's most recent sales tax rebate agreement, with Joseph Freed and Associates, designed to cover costs of converting the former Frank's Nursery store at the Dempster-Dodge shopping center for use by the clothing retailer Steve & Barry's, appears to be dead.

Steve & Barry's, under new ownership after being forced into bankruptcy, has been closing many of its existing stores, and its expansion plans now appear to be suspended.

Because the city's agreement with Freed was dependent on the store actually opening, the city does not owe any payments under the deal.

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