During the City of DeKalb Council Meeting on the evening of February 25, 2019, Larry Berke of Mackinaw Island (MI) and DeKalb (IL) ranted for six minutes on how the needed expansion of the Egyptian Theater would ruin his view of the Palmer Court alley. “On a clear day I can sometimes see 3rd Street” Berke said. After the verbal assault on the city and theater, Mayor Jerry Smith reminded Mr. Berke his three minutes were exceeded and the City and Council members would review the issue.
7th Ward Councilman Tony Faivre quickly responded to Mr. Berke that one landlord cannot mandate what another landlord does with his/her property. Mr. Faivre gave an example of his own experience of the neighboring landlord changing what was to happen on an adjacent lot.
On Tuesday, February 26, the City of DeKalb made a proposed compromise to sell Mr. Berke a section of land behind his building for $1.00. According to business owners that are located in that area, this compromise set a bad example for what the City can or should do to support local businesses. Giving away any city property to appease one landlord is concerning for the entire business community.
DeKalb County Online contacted several business owners whose properties border the Palmer Court alley for comments and reaction. Many business owners wanted to express concerns, but asked their names not be used, as they still have to negotiate with the city on the final plans for the Palmer Court alley construction project.
Some owners complained that the current Berke property is not properly maintained and worry about what would happen if they are awarded the additional land. Other owners are worried that delivery trucks and customers that use the back entrances to their businesses may be challenged by some of the projected changes. One property owner commented that the Berke property still has holiday lights up, which should be a code violation for the city. One hundred percent of the business owners/landlords we spoke to, though, agreed that the expansion of the Egyptian Theatre is an asset to the community.
There are many concerns about where in fact Mr. Berke lives. Checking www.MyLife.com online indicates that Mr. Berke lives in Mackinaw Island (MI).
Here is what that report says: “Larry Berke is 77 years old today…Before moving to Larry’s current city of Mackinaw Island (MI), Larry lived in Sycamore IL and Dekalb IL. Other names that Larry uses includes Larry Berk and Larry M Berke…We know that Larry is married at this point.”
Checking with their friends, former staff, and business tenants of the Berke Family, the Berkes spend less than six months each year in DeKalb, Illinois. Most of the year (primarily the summer) the Berke Family spends time in Mackinaw Island (MI) and Wilmette (IL) with other family members, and not in DeKalb. It is hard to enjoy the view of the alley if you are not living in town.
There were attempts to purchase the Berke location for part of the future expansion of the Egyptian Theater and Larry Berke returned a proposal to sell his location for $400,000 to the theater. In checking with the county listings, the property the Berkes own is appraised at approximately $186,000. It appears the Berke’s proposal is either inflated or the tax assessor needs to reevaluate the property value.
Several comments from local DeKalb area blogs feel the City of DeKalb continues to overpay for projects or gives land away unfairly. The consensus of current business and property owners is that the city should offer similar financial incentives to all active businesses.