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Joliet business grant lightly used in new corridors

Joliet incentive program lightly used since expansion to new corridors

Elder Brewing Co. is getting new windows, doors and a real sign thanks in part to the expansion of a grant formerly reserved for downtown businesses.

The craft brewery and taproom is in one of three commercial corridors where businesses became eligible last year for building improvement grants in exchange for a special property tax assessed on Cass, Collins and South Chicago streets.

So far, Elder Brewing is the only business to make use of the grant in the new corridors, although the city and Joliet City Center Partnership have begun hosting workshops to increase awareness of the program.

“We want everyone to be aware that the program and the grants are available,” said Derek Conley, economic development specialist for the city of Joliet.

Conley conducted a Nov. 2 workshop on the grants, complete with a Spanish language interpreter.

Elder Brewing celebrates its one-year anniversary this weekend after opening Nov. 10, 2017, at 218 E. Cass St.

“Windows and a sign are things that a small business can’t put a lot of money into with other expenses,” said Melissa Polykandriotis, who runs Elder Brewing with her husband, Andrew, who is the brewmaster.

Most of the money has been going into brewing the beer, which should be easier this winter thanks to the new windows on the second floor, where the brewery is located.

“The windows – we don’t know when they were last touched,” Polykandriotis said. “In the winter, you could take a thermometer and it would be 30 degrees by the windows, and in the middle of the rooms it would be in the 50s.”

Elder Brewing opened with only a banner for a sign. When it blew away, the owners replaced it with a wooden sign.

Still, a more noticeable sign is “the No. 1 thing that people tell us that we need,” Polykandriotis said.

The brewery now will get a rehabbed sign that is 6 feet tall and
4 feet wide, which should make Elder Brewing easier to spot for new customers.

The grants are provided through the Joliet City Center Partnership, which originally was created to promote business downtown and was spread to include the Cass, Collins and South Chicago street corridors when the city expanded the special property tax that funds the organization.

The grants come in four forms. One covers 50 percent of the cost of facade improvements up to $20,000.

Another grant provides the same benefit for interior improvements. A $1,500 grant is available for a variety of uses, and a catalytic grant without a designated cap is available for big projects.

The property tax that funds the grant program, which the city collects, amounts to 95 cents on every $100 of the assessed value.

City officials said the tax was designed to fund improvements in the business corridors leading to the downtown area.

The biggest use of the money so far has been to fund the $1.6 million installation of artificial turf at city-owned Joliet Route 66 Stadium.

Business owners in the new corridors have shown little interest in the grant, although there also was almost no opposition to the tax when it was approved in December 2016.

Downtown businesses have been making more use of the grants than those in the new corridors.

This year, grants have been awarded to four new downtown businesses for building improvements: Catrina Mex restaurant, K BBQ & Ribs, the DeWitt’s Gourmet cookie shop and ItisAmazing boutique.

There has been some interest in the new corridors, said Lauren Las, marketing and events manager for the Joliet City Center Partnership.

“We have a couple of them that are in the pipeline,” Las said.

Another business on Cass Street is interested, and so is one on Collins Street, she said.

About 10 people attended the Nov. 2 meeting, which was co-sponsored by Alianza, the Latino business affiliate of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“They seemed pretty interested,” said Las, adding that the Joliet City Center Partnership plans to host more workshops. “We’re not sure when and where, but we definitely want to do more.”

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