A proposed more than $3 million children's learning center project at the site of the vacant former Hallmark shop on Main Street in Crown Point will not get the tax abatement developers say they need to continue.
The Crown Point City Council Monday narrowly denied a request for a tax abatement for the project which would include the complete renovation of the former Hallmark building at the northeast corner of Summit and Main Streets and the demolition of several adjacent properties whose land is needed for a Summit Street entrance to the site.
The project and abatement had the support of Mayor David Uran and the city administration. Council President Laura Sauerman, R-4th, Councilwoman Carol Drasga, R-5th, Councilman Scott Evorik, and new councilman T.J. Wigmore, both R-at large, voted against the abatement. Councilmen Andrew Kyres, D-3rd, Chad Jeffries, D-1st and Republican Councilman Robert Clemons, 2nd Dist., voted in favor of the abatement.
This is the first time a tax abatement has been denied in the city during Uran's 10 years in office.
Jim Wieser, attorney for KACP LLC of Griffith, after the vote said his clients are considering their next steps regarding plans to open a Kiddie Academy certified early childhood education and child care center at the site.
"We're shocked," Wieser said. "I've done 15 to 20 tax abatements in the course of my career in Lake County. This is the first one I ever had denied and this is legitimate," Wieser said. "My clients are terribly disappointed."
KACP LLC had planned to invest more than $2 million to transform the vacant building into a Kiddie Academy. The project would have employed 27 full-time skilled individuals with a combined salary of $858,000, according to the statement of benefits filed for the abatement.
The developer has been working with the city through the permitting, zoning and planning process. It was during that process the need for the Summit Street entrance and exit was discovered. Wieser said his clients came to him to see what financial tools might be available to them since the changes were expected to push the cost of the project over $3 million.
The Hallmark building has been vacant for approximately 10 years, Mayor David Uran said.
City attorney David Nicholls said the Hallmark property is one of several vacant properties in the city identified by the fire department as unsafe. If the building were to catch fire, the department would not risk assets or lives to extinguish the blaze but would only work to contain it and prevent damage to neighboring buildings.
Sauerman said she is saying no to the tax abatement, not to the project.
"My real concern is declaring this a needed revitalization area. It is a vital commercial area in our city," Sauerman said, adding blighted property is supposed to be in an area that is uninhabitable. She blamed the pricing of the building as the reason it remained vacant for so long.
"It's going to develop out. I don't feel comfortable designating this a revitalization area," Sauerman said.
Evorik said he too could not support the project. Evorik said he does not agree with tax abatements and has voted 'no' on previous abatements to come before the council.
"The problem is I said no to some, I can't say yes to this," Evorik said, adding changing his position would make him a hypocrite.
Wieser said the project "clearly and unequivocally meets the requirements of the statute. It's a blighted area. It's a collapsing building," Wieser said.
"Despite all of that, a council member gives a legal opinion that it doesn't meet the requirement of the statute," he said, adding the three other council members gave no legitimate reasons for their denial.
Attorneys Nicholls and Patrick Schuster, attorney for the city council, agreed with Wieser the project does meet the requirement of the state statute. Schuster said the council would have legal standing to both approve or deny the request.
He said turning down assistance to a multi-million project expected to create 27 full-time jobs sends the message: "We'd rather have blight in our community than progress and improvement."
His client is currently assessing the situation before deciding on a next course of action. Wieser said denial of the abatement jeopardizes whether the project will come to fruition.
"There is a likelihood that the project which would be incredibly beneficial to the city of Crown Point never gets developed," Wieser said.