Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is the Choo-Choo Safe for Now? Dire Finances Put Police, Fire Stations on shelf

Unfortunately, finances for the city are so dire that deep cuts are being made in next years' budget. As the Journal reported on Wednesday, among the casualties are the fire and police station. In the story, city manager Jason Bajor is cited as saying plans for fire and police stations are now off the table, despite their high priority; Mayor Marty Moylan is quoted "Nobody is talking now about building a new police or fire station." As recently as June, the Public Safety Commission was calling for the city to move forward aggressively to achieve these goals.

It's regrettable that these longstanding needs of the city will continue to be unfilled. However, the silver lining on this dark financial cloud is that real, careful PLANNING can take place to make sure these projects are carried out in a responsible and well-thought out manner. It seems unlikely that the city will return to the Choo-Choo site for a new police station, given public opinion and the site's many deficiencies. Indeed, last month the Journal reported that the city was continuing to explore a number of other sites, and word from city hall was that Lee/Miner was no longer the favored one. It seems that the new administration is seeking a different direction.

So, in light of these drastic budget cuts, what can the city do?

It can plan for a revitalized downtown, and work with small businesses to help them be successful, and generate sales tax for the city. It can work on streetscape improvements using TIF money, such as landscaping, infrastructure improvements, and facade rehabilitation (hopefully with a better-thought out plan than Economic and Community Development Director Mike Conlan came up with for the Sugar Bowl, which sparked such a backlash.) Small projects like these are a lot more achievable than big developments, especially since TIF money is already there, waiting, and can only be used for such projects.

There is no reason downtown can't pull off a turnaround like LaGrange has, with entertainment and character at its core. Notice - it's not strip mall downtowns like Arlington Heights or Mount Prospect that have the winning appeal, it's diverse, unique, and historic ones. But vision and public support are vital, or else we might see something like a vacant lot at Lee and Miner where the Masonic Temple once stood, waiting for a developer to come buy it. And that would be a disaster.

What can you do?

Tell your aldermen and your friends that you want to see an attractive, vibrant, and historic downtown Des Plaines. There have been a lot of mistakes in the past, and it is time we learn from them. The Main Street approach has proven itself effective in countless downtowns; it can work here.

And support the small businesses we do have. They have the hardest time keeping afloat in these tough times. This weekend, you can go see vaudeville at the Des Plaines Theater , and go out for dinner. Where else are you going to find vaudeville?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Development for Prairie and First?

It looks like another addition may be coming to the Prairie Corners development at Prairie and First. The project started in 2000 under controversy, and began construction in 2003. The townhomes were built and occupied, and seem to be working fine, since it was downsized from 39 to 25 units, but there is still a vacant, undeveloped corner. These are the last four units of the 2003 planned development, where a gas station once stood. These last four units are evidently envisioned as work/live loft spaces, which could be a big improvement over the vacant lot that's there now. Prairie Corners was originally the site of a small commercial district from when this was the outskirts of Des Plaines. In the 1910s and 20s, this area was a big growth center as the Des Plaines Manor I and II subdivisions were developed, and there was still a passenger station on the Soo Line on First. While it made sense at the time to have shops, a grocery, and other services there, that need went away over time. These new uses make sense.

Loopnet - Des Plaines Commerce Lofts

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Randhurst Mall

This post contains a slideshow showing Randhurst through the years. Please click through to the blog if you cannot see it.

Randhurst obviously isn't in Des Plaines, but since it was a regional mall, it made a big impact on the entire Northwest Suburbs. So I think it's appropriate to talk about it here.

I won't do a whole history of it here - I've written one, but I think the other blogs I link to below cover it well. The dome of Randhurst comes down this week, leaving Carson, Pirie, Scott (once the Weiboldt's) the only remaining part of the original mall. I hope you find these pictures interesting, and I think they'll spur some discussion. I also hope that the redevelopment plan works out - it would be good to have a productive retail space there, even if it isn't the sort of incredible architecture the first Randhurst was - at least until it was remodeled in the 80s.


Dead Malls
Pleasant Family Shopping
Stores Forever
Mall Hall of Fame