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Roadside assistance for Libertyville dealers?

November 17, 2010

In a slowing economy, Libertyville officials are floating a plan to help the village’s new-vehicle dealers, who account for about 65 percent of the far north suburb’s sales tax receipts.

With slipping tax receipts, Libertyville is holding public hearings on a plan to create three business districts encompassing the dealerships. The designation would allow the village to share with a given dealer as much as 60 percent of any new sales tax revenue it generates to buy land, expand buildings or make other improvements.

"The village wants to make sure they stay here and invest here. You have to protect it," said Edward Werdell, chairman of Libertyville’s economic development commission.

While several dealerships have undergone renovations, the configurations of the buildings and lots date to the 1970s. Upgrades or expansions have been hindered because of the constraints of the properties and high land cost.

Under the plan, a minimum of 25 percent of any dealer project would have to be dedicated to exterior or site improvements, such as signs or lighting. The minimum value of a project would have to be $25,000, and not more than half the cost could be reimbursable.

Village officials stress the proposal is an incentive, not a bailout.

"The intent is not to front the money or make a loan. We can’t afford to give away existing taxes. If you grow your business, we can find a way to assist you," said Heather Rowe, economic development coordinator for Libertyville.

"It’s based on the idea that sales will someday return to a growth level," she said. "Most dealers expect that to occur at some point in the next 18 months. It depends on which dealers and which lines."

Rowe said the incentives would limit closures and relocations, promote expansion, soften the blow for land acquisition and allow for consolication.

Dan Marks, who is a member of the village’s economic development commission and owns Libertyville Lincoln-Mercury, is on the board of directors of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

"Most dealers are going to wait until they think it’s the optimal economic time," said Marks.

"Most of the dealers are well capitalized. They’re able to weather the storm."