PEORIA — It's not clear if a proposal to bring Portillo's to the Peoria area is dead. But the effort to add an extra 1 percent to the sales tax at the Italian-beef-and-hot-dog restaurant appears to be.
Peoria City Council members were told late Wednesday night in a communication from city staff that developer William Torchia intends to withdraw his request for a special service area on the property along Sterling Avenue, just outside Westlake Shopping Center.
The additional fee, designed to help Torchia recoup some of his costs of land acquisition and development to bring the popular Chicagoland eatery to central Illinois, has proven to be controversial among at least some members of the council.
"I am unsure whether other options exist at that particular site," Assistant City Manager Chris Setti said Thursday morning. "That would be up to Mr. Torchia and Portillo's to either go back to the drawing board or part ways. The city is obviously very interested in Portillo's locating here and will be reaching out to see if alternative locations are viable."
When Torchia was contacted Thursday morning, he had little to say.
"I'm kind of fed up," said Torchia, who had no additional comment.
Torchia attorney Bob Hall also had no comment.
In an email, Portillo's spokeswoman Ana Espinoza stated she had no details to share at this time.
Jim Montelongo, in whose council district the proposed Portillo's is located, said he is trying to work with fellow councilors and others to see if a compromise can be reached.
"I don't have the majority votes to make this thing work," Montelongo, the 4th District councilman, said about the extra sales tax. "I think I need to work with a couple of the council people to find out what are the sticking points. I think I know what those are."
Other options could entail lowering the percentage of the special sales tax, capping a specific sales-tax dollar amount or a reduction in the number of years the tax would be in effect, Montelongo suggested. Currently, a 30-year tax is being proposed.
At-Large Councilman Zach Oyler said he knew firsthand that Torchia was disappointed in his working relationship with the city after the last few months.
"It's disappointing that there's such a lack of information that has been put out there, not just on this subject, but on (special service areas) as a whole — what they are and what they do," Oyler said. "We're in an area where the economy is declining ... we need the revenue, especially if we can bring it in from outside our city.
"This is, or was, a potential opportunity to look at doing that."
Oyler described such an SSA as a development option that posed no risk to taxpayers because city money wasn't involved, and one that challenged a developer to find or run a good business in order to maximize return.
Discussion about whether or not the city would land a Portillo's heated up in early August after the company posted an advertisement online seeking management employees for a prospective store. Weeks later, company CEO Keith Kinsey confirmed the eatery was in talks to locate here.
Early last month, plans for a 9,000-square-foot, 204-seat restaurant along Rockwood Drive were unveiled.
Should the Sterling Avenue site not work, it's uncertain if Portillo's will look elsewhere in the Peoria area for another location. Montelongo hopes Portillo's will.
"Maybe they can find another spot that lends itself to the magic that they're looking for," he said. "I hope they're not going to have a sour taste from Peoria."