Riverside trustees on May 19 voted to expand the range of economic incentives available to businesses within the village’s three Harlem Avenue business districts, including providing grants for new and existing businesses to fund physical improvements and create paths for private-public partnerships to improve the Harlem Avenue streetscape.

The 4-0 vote (trustees Edward Hannon and Megan Claucherty were absent from the meeting) means the expanded incentive program will be effective immediately, and Village Manager Jessica Frances said she intends to bring two such incentive applications to trustees at their next meeting, on June 16.

Those applications will include a request from Cubanito Express, a new eatery at 3222 Harlem Ave., to create outdoor seating for the tiny restaurant. The second would be a more complicated agreement for the village to bear a good portion of the cost to improve a parking lot and landscaping at 2710 Harlem Ave., which the village intends to sell to the adjacent property owner.

Selling the village-owned land to Dr. Milad Nourahmadi, who owns the strip mall at 2720 Harlem Ave., is a key element of attracting an adult-use cannabis dispensary to a vacant building Nourahmadi owns at 2704 Harlem Ave.

The new parking lot at 2710 Harlem Ave. will be able to provide parking for both the strip mall to the south and the dispensary and the deal provides the village an opportunity to significantly improve the appearance of a major village gateway at Harlem Avenue and Longcommon Road.

“While we are having a certain capital outlay, we’ll see those different returns,” Frances told trustees at the May 19 meeting. “The goal of this program is to fill up those vacant storefronts and make great enhancements, so it’s value added to the Riverside community.”

Riverside trustees created the village’s first business district in the Harlem/Longcommon area in 2017. Three years later, the village board created two more business districts along Harlem Avenue – one between Addison and Lawton roads and another at Harlem and Ogden.

All three were created by ordinance and will last 23 years. The village also decided to impose a special 1-percent sales tax in each business district. Those funds are kept in reserve for use in the business district in which they were collected.

Those funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including economic incentives and infrastructure improvements, and avoid the village having to use general operating funds for those purposes.

The Harlem/Longcommon sales tax fund right now is about $192,000 in the red, but that figure does not reflect the $230,000 in revenue the village will realize from the sale of 2710 Harlem Ave.

There is about $31,000 in the sales tax fund of the business district where Cubanito express is located. The general fund can loan the business district money to help fund more expensive improvements, like the ones contemplated for 2710-20 Harlem Ave., and repay the general fund as future taxes are collected.

“These different economic incentive programs and waivers are really helping facilitate businesses coming to Riverside,” Frances said.

Business district funds cannot be used outside of the district’s boundaries. For example, they couldn’t be used to provide incentives in downtown Riverside, which does not have its own business district.

That could change, however. Trustees on May 19 gave Frances the go-ahead to seek a preliminary opinion on whether the downtown would meet standards for establishing a business district from Kane McKenna & Associates, the financial consultant the village used in creating the Harlem Avenue districts.

If the village does decide to move ahead with creating a downtown business district, that would trigger a formal process that would include public hearings and provide an opportunity for input from residents and local business and commercial property owners.