Riverside village trustees voted 6 to 0 on Feb. 2 to provide up to $20,000 over three years in tax rebates to Scott Zimmer for Sawmilly, the fast-casual sandwich shop he opened at 35 E. Burlington St. last December.
The village will rebate the local sales taxes and places-for-eating taxes paid by Sawmilly over a period of three years up to the $20,000 limit, an amount board members largely had agreed to informally in September 2016.
Zimmer sought the inclusion of the local sales tax rebate in his incentive deal with the village after Riverside granted such a rebate package to the owners of La Barra Ristorante in downtown Riverside late last year. Initially, Zimmer had sought just a rebate of the 1-percent places-for-eating tax.
In light of the La Barra incentive package – something the village board is also considering granting to the proposed Safehouse Brewing pub/restaurant in the 300 block of East Burlington Street – Zimmer felt including the places-for-eating rebate was only fair.
“In my opinion, it is the only equitable option available for the board to consider,’ Zimmer wrote in an email to Community Development Director Sonya Abt on Jan. 21. “Otherwise, an argument could be made that the village board is displaying partiality in their economic incentives.”
Zimmer also stated that the streetscape construction on East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside “directly impacted the completion of the Sawmilly project.” The project also had a dampening effect on Zimmer’s other downtown restaurant, The Chew Chew, located immediately west of Sawmilly.
Riverside trustees agreed to not only the inclusion of the local sales tax rebate, but also extended the rebate period from two to three years. That decision was informed by Village Manager Jessica Frances analysis that based on projected sales, Sawmilly was expected to generate far less than $20,000 in combined local sales taxes and places-for-eating taxes in its first two years.
The board on Feb. 2 briefly discussed the possibly removing the $20,000 cap for the rebate deal to match the deal given to La Barra and the one informally proposed for Safehouse Brewing, but trustees were reluctant to do that.
First, the scale of the buildout and renovation for La Barra and Safehouse were much more ambitious. The incentives in those cases may have gone much further in making those businesses a reality, trustees said.
“[In the case of Safehouse] basically taking a building from dilapidation to a usable space makes a major economic incentive for the village,” Trustee Joseph Ballerine said.
While there was some reluctance to renegotiate a deal that trustees had informally agreed to months ago, Village President Ben Sells noted that Zimmer had been downtown Riverside’s restaurant “anchor” for 20 years and that there might not be a La Barra or Safehouse Brewing without his commitment.
While he voted for the package of incentives, saying that the streetscape project could be viewed as a mitigating factor, Trustee Michael Sedivy cautioned against renegotiating such deals in the future.
“I don’t want everyone to come back and retrade deals that have already been made,” Sedivy said. “I don’t think we can make it a habit.”