It’s official: Egyptian Theatre gets $2.5M in TIF funds, portions of Palmer Court

March 12, 2019

DeKALB – Some residents are calling the compromise reached between the Egyptian Theatre, the city, and the owners of Royal Travels & Tours a “payoff” and a “bribe.”

After a weeks-long, contentious debate, the Egyptian Theatre will officially get its $2.5 million in tax increment finance money for building renovations, along with a portion of Palmer Court. The finalized agreement includes conditions which mandate theater officials to provide documentation of how they will come up with the remaining $2 million needed to complete the project before they can access any TIF money, according to city attorney Dean Frieders. The theatre will also get a portion of Palmer Court for a build-out.

Larry and Kay Berke, owners of Royal Travels & Tours, 122 N. First St., will also receive three portions of Palmer Court from the city and theater, respectively, for $1 each.

Some felt the city and theater buckled to the pressure of the Berkes, including downtown resident Leslie Conklin. Like the Berkes, Conklin lives between First and Second streets, at 153 East Lincoln Highway.

“My biggest concern is that it just sets a precedent,” Conklin said. “It looks like a payoff, like a bribe. I’m going to come out and say it.”

Conklin, who says she’s owned her downtown building for 15 years, spoke during Monday’s council meeting before council voted to approve the resolution 7-0 (Ward 6 Alderman Mike Verbic was not in attendance).

“All of us who remained quiet and were not in opposition [of the theater’s plan] or coming forward, we got nothing,” Conklin said. “There are eight property owners down that block, and they get nothing, because they were team players and wanted it to succeed.”

Steve Kapitan, former alderman and current 3rd Ward candidate, echoed Conklin’s frustrations.

“When I saw this in the newspaper last week, what went through my mind was ‘Whose crazy idea was it to convey city property to the Berkes and force the Egyptian to do the same?’ ” Kapitan said. “So if I complain about my neighbor, the resolution is to transfer some of my property to my neighbor?

The transfer of Palmer Court property, which the Egyptian wanted for a planned build-out of the theater to include additional restrooms, storage space, and more roof space to fit the air conditioning units, has been a sore topic of late.

City Manager Bill Nicklas mediated a meeting between all parties Feb. 27, during which the land acquisition plan was hatched.

“It’s been a long time coming to see all of our discussion reach this point,” Mayor Jerry Smith remarked.

Alex Nerad, executive director for the Egyptian Theatre, said he was pleased a compromise could be reached for the benefit of all.

“I think it was a really wonderful conversation and allowed us to maintain the intent of the project,” Nerad said. “Our board is fully behind this.”