After 10 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Kurt Eldrup likes to have things just so.
“I am a perfectionist,” said Eldrup, owner of Aviation Flying Furniture in McHenry. He creates speciality furniture pieces using aeronautical parts on customer requests.
That perfectionism is one reason that when he bought a shop building at 2902 W. Route 120 last fall, he wanted it to look nice for the public. That meant putting a new face on a building that hadn’t seen an update in 38 years, Eldrup said.
Eldrup is one of eight businesses owners who have taken advantage of the city of McHenry’s revamped facade grant program in the past year. First approved by the City Council in September, the program set aside $100,000 to help business owners improve the outside of their buildings.
McHenry economic development Director Doug Martin said there is less than $7,000 left in the account which won’t be replenished until the new fiscal year starts May 1, 2024.
After further tweaks by the council at the Sept. 5 meeting, the program allows dollar-for-dollar matching funds for facade work: up to $10,000 for 1 to 40 feet of linear frontage, $15,000 for 41 to 80 feet and $20,000 for 81 feet or more. Property owners are limited to one request every five years, not to exceed $20,000.
The work does not have to be only for the front of the building. Any side facing a public way, including the riverwalk, can be upgraded.
[Mayor] Wayne Jett and the City Council have done a good job of creating a culture of fun in McHenry, and people are investing in the community because they are seeing those returns.”— Jim McConoughey, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation
Martin has been the economic development director for more than 20 years and rarely saw the program, which was focused on historic property, get used prior to making changes to the program.
The difference now may be the development seen in the city, said Jim McConoughey, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation.
“Building owners and investors want to make sure the dollars they put into a building has a likelihood of being returned, and McHenry has a lot of momentum behind it right now,” McConoughey said. “[Mayor] Wayne Jett and the City Council have done a good job of creating a culture of fun in McHenry, and people are investing in the community because they are seeing those returns.”
Concerts in the park, developing the Riverwalk and Riverwalk Shoppes, community events and investment in city roads and other infrastructure is part of that “culture of fun,” McConoughey said.
It creates a sort of “local patriotism” and pride in the community when residents and business owners see the city invest in itself, he said.
After the city’s riverwalk was extended behind his business, Shawn Summers knew it was time to redo his patio. Summers owns After the Fox Restaurant at 1406 N. Riverside Drive.
“It became very apparently to me that people want to sit outside since the pandemic, and with the riverwalk there I had to match the riverwalk [to] update it, to look nice,” Summers said.
According to city documents, Summers spent $28,926.12 to replace the front door, the door to the deck and to rebuild the deck with more seating. The city grant repaid Summers for $10,000 of the work, according to the documents.
Summers already was thinking about what do to about the facade when he got a letter from the city informing him grant money might be available.
“I was trying to figure out how to put a better face on the facade” when the letter arrived, he said.
For other businesses, the grants have allowed them to offer a better product.
Siriphote Kaewnopparat and her family own the Green Peapod Thai Restaurant at 1225 N. Green St., and the building next door that houses the Black Orchid Boutique.
Replacing the siding and canopy on the Black Orchid building cost the Kaewnopparats $39,279, according to city documents. The grant covered $19,639.50 of the cost.
The siding on the building that covered the front and facing the restaurant’s parking lot was peeling away. Insurance would not cover the cost of replacement. “We had to pay for it out of pocket,” Kaewnopparat said. “The price was just too expensive.”
Carol Chrisman, who runs the Black Orchid, told her landlord about the city program. Having the city help with the cost allowed her to use a higher-quality board siding than she could have afforded otherwise, Kaewnopparat said.
Dan Hart has been working on building out his new restaurant, Whiskey Diablo at 1325 N. Riverside Drive, for the past year and received $30,000 in city grant funds for exterior facade work.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, construction costs have doubled, Hart said. “Had it not been for the grant being available, I would have gone in a different direction. We wouldn’t do the window system that we did.”
That window system has fully retractable panels to open the dining room to the outdoors, Hart said.
The availability of economic development programs and grant funds makes McHenry an attractive place to locate, Hart added. He also owns the D.C. Cobb’s chain of restaurants, including the McHenry location at 1204 N. Green St.
“From an economic development standpoint, deciding where you want to put your project ... it pushes McHenry over the edge when you consider the time and money to open another place,” Hart said.
“The city of McHenry from the mayor to the council and including economic development and the building department is pushing for more and working with existing and new, to create a vibrant downtown and continue expansion.
“That is not true of all neighboring communities,” Hart said.
• Whiskey Diablo: 325 N. Riverside Drive, Dan Hart, $30,000.
• After the Fox Restaurant: 1406 N. Riverside Drive, Shawn Summers, $10,000.
• Cantaritto’s Tequila Bar and Grill: 1228 N. Green St., Alma Garcia, $10,000.
• Black Orchid Boutique: 1237 N. Green St., Siriphote Kaewnopparat, $19,639.50.
• The Cottage Boutique: 1251-1253 N. Green St., Pam Martell, $2,710.
* Business TBA: 1252 N. Green St., Ezequiel Amaro, $30,000.
• Ye Olde Corner Tap: 3901 W. Main S., Patricia Knapik, $18,261.
• Aviation Flying Furniture: 2902 W. Illinois Route 120, Kurt Eldrup, $15,526.