Sorting out how village-owned land at the corner of Lake Street and Park Avenue may be developed will be a major goal of the recently formed River Forest Economic Development Commission in the coming months.
Also on top of the panel’s priority list will be distribution of a first-ever survey on River Forest’s business climate and preparation of a strategy to create Tax Increment Finance districts on both Madison Street and North Avenue.
All of the EDC’s efforts got the green light from River Forest trustees last month.
Not quite a year after its formation, the go-to panel of volunteers charged with helping revive River Forest’s economic development has made significant progress in its efforts.
A top priority of Village President Catherine Adduci, the commission was formed as an ad-hoc group last summer and formalized in late October. And so far, she says, the panel’s progress has exceeded her expectations.
“They have done quite a bit this year….It’s what we were looking for,” she said. “They will be making the most of whatever we have.”
The commission’s first task will be identifying, assessing and prioritizing the economic development opportunities within the village. And land at Lake Street and Park Avenue, near village hall, will be addressed first.
One parcel, situated on the southeast corner of Lake and Park, was purchased with dollars from the village’s first TIF, which covered Lake from Harlem Avenue to Park. The site of a former gas station, it measures approximately 70 feet by 100 feet, with 70 feet of frontage along Lake Street and 100 feet of frontage along Park. A second parcel, approximately 50 feet to the south, is 50-feet by 145-feet. A third parcel is situated between the two and there had been some willing to consider this property in a coordinated redevelopment of the sites, according to an RFP for development of the area put out in 2011.
The village had attempted to develop the area as a mixed-use, multi-story development. Two RFPs were sent out; response was underwhelming, Village Administrator Eric Palm said.
“It was the middle of the recession,” Palm said. “This is a different environment. We’d like to get some development interest in that parcel and the neighboring parcels.”
A proposal to reissue an RFP will be discussed at the commission’s next meeting, tentatively set for Aug. 18.
Other properties on North Avenue, Harlem, Lake and Madison Street will also be assessed.
As that work commences, the village will distribute a commission-crafted survey to businesses with a commercial presence in town, roughly 75 in all.
The commission will analyze the results and issue a report, which will help the village board determine how to craft strategies on business attraction and retention, said Tom Hazinski, the commission’s chairman.
“We want to see why they located their businesses here, how happy they are and find out their needs,” he said. “It’s a starting point on understanding their attitudes.”
The commission’s third greatest task will be building a strategy for implementing Tax Increment Finance Districts on Madison and North. Trustees approved a plan to move forward with TIFs earlier this year.
Panel members will determine boundaries and look at what potential projects could be undertaken. An economic analysis of which projects could be sustained also will be conducted. Once this work is concluded it easily could take seven to eight months before TIFs are even implemented, Palm said.
If approved these will be the second and third TIF districts in River Forest. The first, which set the stage for both Town Center projects and rebuilt village hall, expired in 2010. Approximately $1.9 million of that money is still in reserve to buy property, clean up the site and offer incentives to bring in tenants to the property at Lake and Lathrop Avenue. An extension of one year to craft a deal on developing the property by Tim Hague of Keystone Ventures was granted last November, but so far a deal has not yet been struck.
The EDC was formed initially as an ad-hoc group last summer. An ordinance creating a formal commission was tabled last October over questions related to residency.
Trustees unanimously affirmed six of the seven voting members. The selection of Lou Vitullo was approved by a vote of 4-2, but only after an attempt failed to open up the ordinance and add a residency requirement. Vitullo’s appointment was opposed by Trustees Carmela Corsini and Tom Dwyer.