O’Leary’s Irish Pub to become Mexican restaurant

Kierra Frazier, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — The former O’Leary’s Irish Pub and Grill, 260 E. Lincoln Highway, could soon become a Mexican restaurant called El Jimador Mexican Grill after city council members considered a tax increment financing funding request for the project.

While there was no vote taken at Monday night’s meeting, most council members supported the idea of a new Mexican grill downtown but didn’t support funding 40% of total project costs.

The restaurant formerly known as O’Leary’s closed in November 2018 and has been privately marketed since then, according to the city council Mar. 9 agenda.

Tom Weaver, vice president of Weaver Construction, and Ryan Gifford, a mortgage loan officer at First National Bank, have a contract to purchase the property and have requested $237,640 in TIF funding, according to the agenda. The funding request exceeds the $124,100 amount that is eligible for TIF funds and is 40% of the overall project costs, which is an estimated $684,000.

A TIF is a way for the city to help finance various companies through taxes for a project site or for redevelopment within the city.

Fifth Ward Alderperson Scott McAdams said he’s not happy with TIF funding for acquisition costs combined with the estimated remodeling cost and would like to see a different proposal.

“I welcome new businesses to downtown and look forward to having a business in that empty space but I’m very much opposed to using it for acquisition costs,” McAdams said.

Land acquisition costs are a TIF-eligible expense but the city tries to limit their approvals of such requests, according to the agenda.

Sixth Ward Alderperson Mike Verbic referred to the City of DeKalb website to note that TIF funding is a tool to improve historic districts, restore rundown blighted areas and jumpstart economically challenged parts of town.

“Where’s the blight?” asked Verbic. “How is this blighted or creating a negative impact on the central business district?”

City Manager Bill Nicklas said vacant buildings that aren’t returning any of the assets the building holds can be considered to be a blight in accordance with the TIF Act.

Second Ward Alderperson Bill Finucane said he would support the 40% TIF funding for the project considering the building has been on the market for a while.

Weaver and Gifford hope to open the restaurant in May and are focusing their remodeling efforts on the first floor of the restaurant and the exterior. They plan to add 35 more seats to the main floor and continue the land lease for outdoor seating which can serve 40 customers, according to the agenda.

Weaver and Gifford want to use the funding for new awnings, exterior paint, changes to the existing signs and for more interior work like installing tile floors in the bathrooms.

A similar TIF-funded project was approved during a February city council meeting to the Balli family who owned Eduardo’s Mexican Restaurant, 206 E. Lincoln Highway until it closed in December. The family was awarded $216,800, 40% of project costs, to build four apartments on the second floor and rent out the bottom floor for commercial use.

The former O’Leary’s building was built in 1937 by retailer J.C. Penney and was remodeled into a restaurant and bar in the early 2000s.

First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris said the former O’Leary’s restaurant was in perfect condition when it closed in 2018 and is hesitant to fund acquisition costs.

“I understand that it’s acceptable under TIF to allow acquisition costs to be used here,” Morris said. “However, I’m not in favor of it. I’m not in favor of changing the precedent as well. It would be prudent both as a business owner and as a city to recognize that the space is usable as is and to not invest further in it.”