STERLING – The council unanimously approved a lease agreement Monday that allows a downtown business to use a city alleyway Wednesdays through Sundays and for special events.
Champs Sports Bar & Grill, 11 E. Third St., with help from nonprofit development group Sterling Today, will use the Light Street alley that runs from Second to Fourth streets.
The lease calls for Champs to pay the city $200 a year for use of the alley. The agreement is in sync with ordinances regarding sidewalk cafes. The hours are restricted to 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to closing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Sterling Today first brought the idea before the council on March 4, 2013. Mayor Skip Lee said the city's support of the project never wavered. The delay came with drawing up the paperwork.
"There was no doubt about wanting to do this," Lee said. "Paperwork takes time, and there were some other pressing issues that made this a lower priority, especially during the winter."
Lee said the delay allowed the city to examine general attitudes toward alleys and how they relate to downtown activities. Safety and security issues were discussed at length, the mayor said.
"There were several meetings with police and fire officials and any concerns they may have had were addressed," Lee said.
Gaining access to the area during an emergency is the main concern of the police and fire departments, Lee said.
Champs owner Denny Strader said the nonprofit approached him about using the alley when they found out he planned to tear down the building to create outdoor space.
"I was going to demolish the 11 E. Third building and make a patio," Strader said. "They wanted to preserve the building, so they suggested I use the alley for outdoor space."
The Champs building is not on a historic preservation list, but the facade, in particular, is considered by city officials to have historic value.
Sterling Today's renovation of the alleyway for festivals and other events is being coordinated with upgrades Strader is making to the easternmost part of the building, adjacent to the alley.
Strader has put up fencing that locks at both ends when in use. He has installed a garage door that will be opened for customers during the warmer months. Festival streetlights are part of the plan, but they aren't up yet.
"The city is putting up the lighting, and I have some exterior and interior work I want to do with the front-corner building," Strader said.
Strader said the fencing, half of the garage door costs, and some other improvements have been paid for by Sterling Today.
Strader hopes to have everything ready sometime next year. He believes the project benefits everyone involved by giving people another reason to come downtown.
"This is a huge business opportunity for Champs, but anything that can bring business downtown is good for the owners and the city," Strader said.
Part of Fun Jump's petition kept alive
STERLING – Part of a request by a local business owner to have city fees waived was sent back to city staff Monday for further review.
Mardi Ybarra, owner of Fun Jump, 505 W. Lynn Blvd., first petitioned the council in September 2012 to exclude the business from certain provisions of the amusements and entertainments ordinance. The bounce house business opened in October 2011.
The council voted to table Ybarra's request at the June 16 meeting.
Ybarra wants fees totaling $340 to be waived, contending that her business is an indoor playground, not an arcade, for which she believes the ordinance was designed.
The fees in question are the annual city licensing fee of $100, and a $40 fee for each device.
The council voted to deny the petition to waive both fees, with Mayor Skip Lee casting the tiebreaking vote. However, the matter was sent back to city staff to consider dropping just the device fee.
Ybarra believes the device fee is redundant.
"I already pay the state $60 for each device," Ybarra said.
Alderman Barry Cox said he believed the fees should not apply to Fun Jump.
"I don't look at the entertainment here as rides," Cox said. "This is a kids' birthday party center."
Alderman Lou Sotelo agreed with Cox's assessment.
"McDonald's is exempt from these fees as an indoor playground," Sotelo said. "We shouldn't treat a big corporation differently than a small local business."
Alderman John Stauter and Police Chief Ron Potthoff were concerned that approving the petition could open Pandora's box.
"Every time we waive a fee, we stand the chance that five more will come in wanting the same thing," Potthoff said.
Lee said it is an annual fee, so it couldn't be permanently waived. It could be waived for a year, but then the city would have to look at rewriting the ordinance.
Ybarra said she would be OK with having only the device fee waived, but she admits the length of the process has tried her patience.
"This has been a long road," she said. "It seems like a simple request, and we're back here a third time."
The Sterling City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. July 21, at City Hall, 212 Third Ave., on the first floor in the Council Chambers.
Go to www.sterling-il.gov/ or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.