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Brown's County Market Eyed for Self-Storage Conversion Project in Sycamore, IL

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The Sycamore, Ill., Plan Commission is considering a proposal by Franklin Development Trust Inc. to convert the former Brown’s County Market into a mixed-use site that would include indoor self-storage and retail. The unmanned storage facility would contain 178 units in varying sizes and be operated via a kiosk. It would also be monitored by video cameras, according to the source. The property at 403 E. State St. has been vacant since the grocer filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The site also includes a Family Dollar store on the corner.

The city must first determine if self-storage is permitted in the space, which is currently zoned central business district. If a special-use permit is required, a series of public meetings will be held to discuss amending the city’s Unified Development Ordinance, according to the source.

The proposal was presented to the plan commission by Franklin Development President Douglas Olson, who said the idea for the project began when the company sought a building ripe for development. “We started with the concept of looking for buildings in distress. Then we see what we can do with that building,” he said.

The building has been difficult to redevelop due to deferred maintenance and space restrictions, the source reported. Many retailers are seeking wider spaces with less depth than the building provides, Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said.

In addition, the Family Dollar’s lease, which extends to 2020 and has extension options, doesn’t allow for some business types, including restaurants (except for fast food), banquet centers, sports or gaming businesses, education facilities, training facilities, or office space.

Franklin’s proposal wouldn’t violate the Family Dollar lease clauses and would make use of the building’s depth. It would also allow for retail or a fast-food restaurant at the front, Olson said during the meeting. He also noted the conversion model is being employed by other self-storage operators, including U-Haul International Inc., which is transforming several Kmart and JCPenney stores. According to Olson’s research, the community could support another 100,000 square feet of self-storage.

Several community members spoke about the proposal during meeting. Rondo Zeigler, owner of Rondo Truck & Trailer, expressed concerns about the location. “The building itself does not look like it can support a business. I don’t mean to be negative, I’m just making a comment as a businessman,” he said.

In response to a question from resident Jeff Fisher about the tax revenue the facility would generate, Olson admitted it would only include property tax and sales tax. Gregory added the investment in the property would lead to an increase in property taxes.

The plan commission will allow community members to provide further input on the project during workshops. Olson also noted he was open to any suggestions from the commission or the public. “Change is hard for some people and I understand that,” he said. “If people have ideas, I’m open to ideas. If you think about it, this building has sitting for five years. For five years, this building has been a storage building, it’s just not open for business.”

Based in Hinckley, Ill., Franklin Development provides construction and project management including general contracting, due diligence, facility upgrades, design/build, and architectural drawings.

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