Code Surprises Impede Business Growth

By Rebecca Susmarski The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The complex and expensive process of bringing a building up to code varies depending on the type of business and the condition and age of the building.


When Elvith Santoyo-McNaught decided to move her Mexican restaurant from Henderson Street to a building in downtown Galesburg in May 2016, she expected to hire and consult multiple entities to help her through the costly process of abiding by government codes and regulations, but she wasn't prepared for all that lay ahead.

Months into renovating of the Carriage House building at 248 E. Simmons St., Santoyo-McNaught learned she either needed to install a fire sprinkler for $100,000 to comply with codes, or alter the restaurant's layout. She ultimately decided not to move Acapulco Mexican Restaurant downtown because of the growing costs of code compliance.

She undertook a $200,000 loss on the project, and spent $62,000 on architectural drawings alone.

"The $200,000 doesn't compare at all to the two years of effort and sleepless nights, and nights that I didn't even get to see my family to make this project work," Santoyo-McNaught said. "That extra cash that would normally go to my family's needs, for my child's future college fund, is now going to go pay this building that's rotting and sitting there."

Unexpected costs of codes The complex and expensive process of bringing a building up to code varies depending on the type of business and the condition and age of the building, among other factors. Jim Boyd, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Western Illinois University, said he's seen entrepreneurs pay anywhere from $50,000 to $2 million to comply with codes.

"It doesn't matter where you are; everybody has their own little nuances about how the codes are," Boyd said. "In Galesburg's specific instance, depending on where it is, how it's zoned, the conditions of buildings and all that, may be different than Quincy."

Before Ryan Cardwell started developing 150 E. Simmons St. to open Iron Spike Brewing Co. in 2014, he learned as much as he could about code compliance and costs in advance, but some lessons came unexpectedly during the process.

He was thrown a "$25,000 curveball" when he found out he needed to install fire suppression on all three of the restaurant's floors -- the third floor being the attic, which is completely off-limits even for storage -- and also had to pay more than $10,000 for a full-size grease trap.

Megan Robbins, owner of GLoBar at 337 E. Main St., found out weeks before she opened the business that she needed to install a 1,000-gallon grease trap to comply with regulations from the Galesburg Sanitary District, an entity separate from the city. Before then, Robbins struggled to find information about codes on the city's website, and had to get pamphlets from a friend who works as a plumber and from her contractor to learn more about the details.

Information at a premium Santoyo-McNaught went through a contractor to understand most of the codes' legal language, and said she contacted city staff members whenever she had questions.

"I never got an answer from the first party," Santoyo-McNaught said. "I always had to be connected to somebody else who connected me to somebody else."

The city has a "Building in Galesburg" pamphlet that explains the codes the city uses in layman's terms, but the pamphlet was not posted on the city's website before Jan. 19. Ken Springer, president of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development, said Jan. 18 the partnership does not pass out the pamphlet to business owners.

"We put the businesses right in front of the people that wrote that, and that's what the city will give to the businesses," Springer said. "... I don't see how us giving that booklet out makes it any easier from the outset when we're actually putting them in front of the (city staff)."

Some projects dashed Santoyo-McNaught has the Carriage House building for sale for $99,000, but all interested parties thus far turned away once they heard about all the work that will be involved in its reconstruction.

Cardwell has had other ideas for businesses -- such as an antique ice cream parlor in the former Rooster's Diner location on North Seminary Street -- that he ended up not undertaking because of how much it would cost to comply with codes.

Robbins once planned to refurbish her building facade and make a patio space so she could extend her hours for the evening, but ended up foregoing the idea when she received a letter from the city saying she would need to insure her sidewalk to do so, and apply for a $50 patio license.

"I think it's a mindset," Robbins said. "I don't know if as a community, we're in a growth mindset."

She shared that concern with representatives from the city, the Knox County Health Department and the Galesburg Downtown Council during a meeting that took place after she found out about the grease trap. The city agreed to give her a Business Innovation grant that allowed for a cost reduction.

"Once we got to the people we needed to get to, everybody was accommodating," Robbins said. "I think unfortunately at the meeting we had, there was an air of defensiveness because everybody felt like, 'well, I was doing my job,' and I was like, 'I'm not saying you're not doing your job. I'm saying we need a better, more cohesive system, because a lot of entities are involved.'"

Who's responsible for information Marshall Schrader, superintendent of the Galesburg Sanitary District, recently created a waiver request form to allow aspiring restaurant owners and their plumbers to describe their hours, menu and the plumber's recommendation as to whether or not the establishment's grease trap should be 1,000 gallons or less. Schrader will then meet with the business owner and plumber to see if they can make the grease trap smaller.

"Most of the plumbers are aware of it now," Schrader said.

And residents or business owners themselves?

"I guess it just goes back to due diligence," Schrader said. "I can't honestly think that I'm going to spend $700 and provide a Burger King menu in a downtown building that's been a jewelry store for the past 100 years. At some point there has to be some due diligence for people who are going to be developing and investing their life savings in this process."

City uses pamphlet as guide Steve Gugliotta, planning manager for the city, asked the planning department's secretary to post the "Building in Galesburg" pamphlet on the city's website following a Jan. 19 phone interview with The Register-Mail, and he encouraged entrepreneurs and residents to contact the city if they have suggestions on how to improve the city's communication with business owners or other services.

Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard suggested making copies of the pamphlet available to KCAPED, the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce and area Realtors.

KCAPED and the ISBDC have hosted sessions with information for aspiring business owners since 2016, and the organizations will increase the number of sessions from two to four this year. No representatives from the other entities involved in the economic development process -- such as inspectors or architects -- have helped teach it yet.

The Galesburg Fire Department and the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce partnered to host a well-attended Dine & Develop session for existing business owners Sept. 13, 2017, that offered historical examples as to why the codes are necessary. Galesburg Fire Chief Tom Simkins said he would be willing to give another similar presentation in the future.

Cardwell thought it could be helpful if the Young Professionals of Galesburg, Galesburg Business Association or another community group organized an extended series of classes where representatives from the city, sanitation district, KCAPED and others could each teach different sessions.

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