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Finance Committee OKs new LaSalle Street co-working deal

Jimi Allen poses for portrait Gravity Building co-working space he plans open this fall LaSalle Street Aurora. Stephanie Lulay Sun-Times

Jimi Allen poses for a portrait at the Gravity Building, a co-working space he plans to open this fall on LaSalle Street in Aurora. Stephanie Lulay, Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 15, 2014 6:17AM

AURORA — After a previous proposal was delayed several months, Aurora officials now have a new plan that would help open a co-working space in the city’s downtown.

The city’s Finance Committee unanimously approved a new plan with Aurora photographer Jimi Allen at a meeting Tuesday afternoon. Under the new plan, the city will kick up to $300,000 to the developer to fix a structural defect affecting the building’s facade at 56-60 S. LaSalle St.

If City Council approves the deal, construction on the planned co-working space, called the Gravity Building, will begin in early March. The total restoration project is expected to cost $1.5 million.

“This will give us a hard start and will make financing possible,” Allen said. “This [agreement] allows us to creatively deal with the rest of the project.”

Allen plans to renovate a vacant 16,000-square-foot building into a co-working space for start-up businesses and freelancers. Dedicated office space will be on the building’s second floor and events will be hosted on the building’s third floor, he said.

If all goes well with construction, the Gravity Building could be open for co-working tenants by June, he said. The development has secured 13 leases, representing 35 people who plan to work in the building, to date.

“I have people calling every day,” Allen said.

Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo said it is a priority for the city to fix the “significant structural issues” in the historic LaSalle Street building. The property, commonly known as the Coats Building, is part of the LaSalle Street Auto Row Historic District.

Allen said that the columns on the building’s third floor are undersized, causing a structural problem in the building.

“We’re fairly confident that once the structural issues are able to be shored up, we’ve had good indication that there will be movement on the [financing] end,” Ergo said.

Under the new plan, the city would give the Gravity Building $100,000 once work starts on the building, $50,000 to reimburse Allen for architecture fees and $150,000 on completion of the facade project, according to Chief Development Officer Bill Wiet. The financing is expected to come from tax increment financing District 1.

Under a previous plan, the city aimed to kick $457,000 in TIF funds toward the acquisition and rehab of the historic building. The LaSalle Street co-working development was first proposed to City Council in September.

Allen is negotiating financing terms with three different banks, he said Wednesday. He purchased the LaSalle Street building in 2011 for $256,000.

Allen worked as a photographer for Copley Newspapers, then-owner of the Beacon-News, from 1998 to 2001.

The full City Council will discuss the property deal at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.

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