Opening a new grocer on North Avenue took a giant step forward Monday when River Forest’s economic development commission recommended that a county property tax exemption be granted so Fresh Thyme Farmers Market can renovate the shuttered Dominick’s site.

Approval of the financial incentive, which would allow the chain to recoup up to $1 million in property taxes, is expected to be approved Monday by the River Forest village board.

A letter of intent with Mid-America Real Estate Group has been completed for the site; signing a contract is contingent on approval of the chain’s request for financial assistance, Village Administrator Eric Palm said.

Pegged as the best option for redevelopment by the EDC, the Dominick’s site had been closed since late last year when its parent company, Safeway, abandoned the Chicago market. Getting a suitable developer for the property was high on the list of priorities for Village President Catherine Adduci, who was ecstatic that the site could soon come online.

“It is important for the village to be proactive, and I am pleased that the Economic Development Commission agreed with our village administration to work with Fresh Thyme on ways to make the former Dominick property work for them.”

Opening the store will not just mean more sales tax but it also will be a boon for commerce, said Tom Hazinski, chair of the EDC. Business owners who responded so far to the EDC’s survey mentioned that the development that they’d like to see most in River Forest is the revitalization of the Dominick’s site as a grocery store.

“The community would be enthusiastic about the return of a grocer,” Hazinski said. “It’d be more than about the traffic, there’d be a presence on North Avenue. That would be important and good for the entire village.”

But before it opens, perhaps in late 2015 or early 2016, and infuses new revenue into the village, the building will need a considerable amount of restoration. It was one of the oldest in Dominick’s portfolio, and very little money had been invested into it over the last several years, Palm said.

The Fresh Thyme chain recently opened sites in Deerfield and Mount Prospect, but there, build-out costs each were $2 million lower than the investment needed for the River Forest location.

The upfront investment will be considerable — $4 million, Palm said. A complete gut of the North Avenue building will be necessary with all new electrical, mechanical, plumbing as well as work on the onsite sewers. The building will remain with some modifications to the loading dock.

The best option for that assistance, Palm said, will come from a Class 7c incentive provided by Cook County. The 7C incentive is a five-year incentive that would reduce the property tax assessment level to 10 percent for three years, 15 percent in the fourth year and 20 percent in the fifth year. It can be renewed for a five-year term, he said. It is principally used for real estate that engages in the buying and selling of goods and services. The benefit is that no funds would be spent by the village. Rather, Palm said, the property tax assessment is ultimately reduced. Each taxing body will still receive the dollars it levies through the property taxes.

An incentive would be good as well because the site is smaller – approximately 28,000 square feet – and limits the number of interested tenants as most large grocery stores are in the 50,000 – 80,000 square-foot range. That leaves certain niche market stores such as Fresh Thyme as potential suitors.

“Fresh Thyme is a small, good neighborhood grocer with produce, deli and prepared foods. That’s the trend in markets, people want fresher food now. There’s one in Mount Prospect, near where I live. It’s nice. This is a good match for the community,” said Palm.

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