COUNTRYSIDE – After taking a leap of faith in 2007 by purchasing vacant properties in town, the city of Countryside now is being recognized for the development’s positive social and economic effects.
Seven years after the purchase of what now is known as the Countryside City Center, the city received a 2014 Economic Development Award. The Edie award – sponsored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Development Council – is given to those who bring jobs, growth and prosperity to the community.
For Countryside, the process began in 2007 when the previous City Council decided to purchase the then-vacant properties off of Joliet and La Grange roads, according to Alderman Sean McDermott.
“It was a challenging time,” McDermott said. “We went through the economic downturn in ’08 and ’09, and we were buying the land in ’06 and ’07.”
After purchasing land, Countryside issued bonds, created a TIF district, brought in multiple businesses and is now seeing a positive result.
“There were some difficult decisions to be made,” McDermott said. “But we believed all along that if we purchased the property, used the bonds, created the TIF district and got the anchor [business], there was going to be synergy with the surrounding economic activity and that it was really going to blossom when the economy turned around and we’re really pleased that it has shown to be true.”
Mayor Ed Krzeminski said although he was not supportive of this plan at first and didn't think the city should be property owners, he's very proud of how it turned out.
“I wanted to make it the best it could possibly be and something Countryside citizens can be proud of,” Krzeminski said. “The purpose of this whole thing was to make that development something different, [something] that’s not just down the street.”
Since buying the property, Countryside has brought in Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Hooters and Texas Roadhouse. Along with its new and already-existing businesses, the city of Countryside also offers many parks and recreational activities for the residents.
Countryside’s Recreation Department oversees and manages six parks throughout the city along with a little league and soccer park, Countryside Park and Memorial Park.
“We were really convinced that this was the right thing to do,” McDermott said. “The credit goes to the city council in 2007 and 2008, and the current members of the city council who supported moving forward and staying with it to get the job done.”
In light of its decision to bring in multiple businesses and purchase the property, the city also had to implement a property tax for the first time, according to City Administrator Gail Paul.
“That was a really tough decision,” Paul said. “The board stayed the coarse and said this is what we have to do in order to pay the bills and keep reasonable fund balances.”
At the time of approving the property tax – at $1.5 million – the board promised the residents they’d get rid of the tax as fast as possible. Now, the property tax is down to $150,000, Paul said.
McDermott said being able to lower the property tax for residents was really important.
“We made a commitment to the residents that as quickly as we could get rid of that, we would do so and we’ve kept our word,” McDermott said. “It’s really outstanding and we’re really thrilled that that has occurred.”
The council was confident in its plan and although the main obstacles have been passed, the city is still looking to bring in additional businesses including a Tony’s Finer Foods – opening this Fall at Joliet and Willow Springs roads – along with an Indian Motorcycles and more.
But what’s even more important than the city’s economic development, is its opening communication with the residents, according to Krzeminski.
“[Residents] can come to any of us and ask any questions or with any problem,” Krzeminski said. “We’ll always have an open door.”