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(As seen in the Daily Southtown)
Developer Michael Brown of Flossmoor, standing, describes proposed restaurants to Olympia Fields officials on Aug. 22, 2018. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)
Ted SlowikContact Reporter
Fans of fine cuisine in the south suburbs may soon be able to add two new upscale restaurants to their dining options.
Trustees in Olympia Fields Wednesday night unanimously endorsed a developer’s plan to ask Cook County officials to approve economic development tax incentives for two new proposed restaurants.
The proposed steakhouse and Italian restaurant along Vollmer Road fit well with the village’s efforts to attract high-quality new businesses, Village President Sterling Burke said.
“We’re not going after just anybody,” Burke told trustees. “We want businesses that will yield high taxes.”
Developer Michael Brown, of Flossmoor, told trustees he initially sought to build a Burger King on the 3-acre site located near Pulaski Road/Crawford Avenue. His company has built 40 restaurants across the country, he said, including Burger Kings in Homewood and South Holland.
Brown said he agreed to pursue a higher-end venture after meeting with Burke and learning of the village’s longer-range economic development vision.
“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity to work in Olympia Fields,” Brown told trustees.
Trustees were first publicly presented with plans for the restaurants in May, village board minutes show. Restaurateur Bing Zhou, of Chicago, told trustees in May his market research showed high demand for high-end restaurants in the Olympia Fields area.
“For a good steakhouse you have to travel all the way to the Orland Park area. That’s about a half-hour drive,” Zhou said, according to minutes.
Olympia Fields economic development consultant Trinette Britt-Johnson told trustees in May that Zhou operates 13 restaurants across the country. Five are in the Chicago area: Koi in Evanston, Bar Roma in Andersonville, Le Sud in Roscoe Village and Old Crow Smoke House locations in Wrigleyville and River North.
Zhou and partners planned to invest $7 million to build a 12,000-square-foot complex, Britt-Johnson told trustees in May, according to minutes. One-third of the space would be a steakhouse, another third would be a gourmet Italian restaurant and 4,000 square feet of banquet hall space would connect the two, she said.
The restaurants and banquet hall will be marketed to people who live in Olympia Fields and nearby towns, visitors to Olympia Fields Country Club and professionals who work at places like Franciscan Health Olympia Fields. Franciscan Health is nearing completion of a $115 million expansion of its hospital at 20201 S. Crawford Ave.
Market research showed Olympia Fields has desirable demographics, Zhou told trustees in May. Residents tend to be older and more affluent, he said. Sixty-five percent of residences in Olympia Fields are two-person households, he said.
“That means the kids go to college and they have a good amount of money they can spend here,” Zhou said, according to minutes. “As parents we raise our kids, we want the best for our kids. That’s why we spend so much money for school, for everything, for their future.
“Now, they are entertaining themselves. They have to treat themselves good,” Zhou said.
Olympia Fields has about 5,000 residents. The median age is 53.4 years and median household income is $96,377 annually, according to Census data.
The village is a “great market” for upscale restaurants, Zhou told trustees in May.
“There is so little competition,” he said. “Between Flossmoor and Olympia Fields, it is like 12,000, and then you add the population over in Matteson. Everybody is tired of having to travel someplace else even if people come from outside.”
High tax rates in the south suburbs discourage business investment, village officials said Wednesday night. Cook County offers a Class 8 property tax incentive that requires an endorsement from municipalities, Village Attorney John Murphy said.
“(The incentive) allows commercial property in the south suburbs to be taxed at a lower rate,” Murphy said.
Commercial real estate with a Class 8 designation is taxed at a rate of 10 percent for 10 years instead of the standard rate of 25 percent, Murphy said.
“Instead of being assessed like a commercial property, it’s assessed like a house,” Murphy said. “It’s a productive incentive.”
The Cook County Board, however, has adopted a measure requiring recipients of Class 8 incentives to pay prevailing wage rates to construction workers who build, repair or expand businesses. The new requirement is set to take effect Sept. 1.
“There’s a sprint right now to get this in place,” Murphy told trustees.
Brown told trustees he recently built a restaurant in Bellwood that failed to qualify for the incentive. The most recent annual property tax bill for the restaurant was $115,000, he said.
“That level of taxation on a small business is difficult to absorb,” Brown said.
In contrast, property taxes for the Burger King he built at 183rd Street and Kedzie Avenue in Homewood were $55,000, Brown said.
Burke, who was first elected village president in 2017, told trustees in May the proposed restaurants are examples of the types of developments Olympia Fields hopes to attract.
“Originally, Mike Brown wanted to put up a hamburger joint,” Burke said. “We said that we are not doing a hamburger joint. We don’t need that. We need something that’s more upscale than that.
“This is going to be a big success,” Burke said, according to minutes. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”
Brown said he planned to break ground in October and open the new restaurants in 2019.