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Des Plaines may drop historic sign preservation program
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

The SugarBowl restaurant sign.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/28/2009 12:01 AM

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Des Plaines city officials are revisiting a new program for preserving historic downtown signs and may end up dropping the idea altogether after residents criticized them for wasting taxpayer money.

The city council authorized the program in July, offering to pay roughly $20,000 from a special taxing district to preserve the iconic Sugar Bowl Restaurant sign that hangs outside the recently reopened downtown eatery.

City officials agreed to reimburse 100 percent of the costs to preserve, restore and acquire such historic signs in downtown as the Sugar Bowl, the Des Plaines Theater marquee and perhaps even The Choo Choo.

Yet, public outcry prompted Sugar Bowl owners to decline taking city money for restoring the sign, City Manager Jason Bajor said.

Bajor said the sign restoration program is now under review.

"There's three basic options: leave the program as is; modify it reimbursing less than 100 percent making it more consistent with our facade rehab program; and the third option is to rescind it completely," Bajor said.

Typically, the city's Facade Rehabilitation Program would reimburse only up to half the costs of rehabilitation projects less than $5,000 and one-third of the cost of larger facade projects, with a cap on how much money the city would provide as incentive for business owners to improve their properties.

In the past, the city has used the program to improve commercial districts, spending $100,000 annually for facade projects within downtown, and roughly the same amount for projects in other areas.

Yet, the portion of the program funded through general fund revenues was cut out of the 2009 budget due to financial constraints, while rehab projects in downtown could still be undertaken with special tax increment financing district funds.