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Downers Grove

Downers Grove eyes new village hall, police station and downtown development

DOWNERS GROVE – A two-phase plan that would move the police department, fleet management and firehouse No. 1 to new facilities on Ogden Avenue, build a new village hall downtown and incorporate private redevelopment at both locations appears to be the preferred course for the majority of village commissioners following a meeting Sept. 9 at village hall.

The plan was met with skepticism from several residents who spoke at the meeting, along with general inquisitiveness from others, and concern with tax dollars that would be needed to do the work.

The planning meeting is the latest in a series to explore upgrading or building a new village hall and police department. Village officials say both buildings have outlived their useful life, are in need of new roofs, HVAC systems and other upgrades, and do not meet the needs of village staff.

The current police department is described as too small, with inadequate storage space, along with a lack of private meeting areas to conduct sensitive interviews with witnesses and suspects. Officials say village hall is too large and creates operational inefficiencies.

They are "in need of substantial maintenance and improvement just to keep both buildings operational," Assistant Village Manager Mike Baker said. "They don't quite fit the way we function as an organization at this time."

Mayor Martin Tully and others who spoke at the meeting identified the current Burlington Avenue civic center as prime downtown real estate that would be better served with residential and commercial buildings. Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation Board member Don Jankowski said the committee believes upscale, transit-orientated, multi-family housing, mixed with commercial, would be the best use for the site.

"This would be a very hot property for those types of developers," he said. It would "attract millennials and other young professionals that are in demand by corporate headquarters and other tech-driven businesses."

The facilities that would move to Ogden Avenue and Lacey Road would sit on the rear of an undeveloped property, with commercial development on the front of the lot, and a new traffic signal at the intersection.

"We think the development of commercial out-lots can generate sales tax revenue," Jankowski said. "The proposed plan would become a significant development project for that strip of Ogden between Middaugh and Pershing (avenues)."

The village bets that private development at both properties in the two-phase plan – the biggest project of the four presented options – would help offset construction expenses, bringing the public costs for the project close to the cost of simply upgrading and keeping the existing buildings.

"I think that Lacey and Ogden parcel has been kind of a wounded soldier out there for us," Commissioner Geoff Neustadt said.

Throughout the meeting, Tully used an airplane metaphor to describe the discussion as looking at the options from 35,000-feet in the air, reiterating to residents that current talk was exploratory and intended to give direction to staff to report back with further details.

"It would be very easy to call this whole project 'new village hall,'" Tully said. "This has very little to do with village hall and much much more to do with a series of opportunities to solve a series of nagging problems that have challenged this community for decades."

All commissioners who spoke at the meeting preferred the two-phase "option 4," with the exception of Commissioner David Olsen, who preferred upgrading and keeping the current buildings, referred to as "option 1."

"The $14-22 million gap between the funding available and the cost of [option 4] is something that scares me," he said. "It scares me as a representative of the residents in this community, and it scares me as a tax payer."

Residents in opposition to the plan largely cited unease with any increase in taxes it could take to complete the project.

"Option 1 is most desirable to me for many reasons," said resident and Downers Grove Township Clerk Laura Hois. "I've talked to people door-to-door for a long time, and I hear people saying they need to move away because their taxes are getting too high and they can't stay in their home."

One resident said moving the police station from the center of town to the northwest would make it less accessible to residents.

"If I live on the south side of town, I don't want to go all the up there," resident Mike Hahn said. "That's absurd."

Four possible plans for new village hall and police station

Officials say both buildings are out of date and inadequate – the police station's too small, leading to organizational and storage inefficiencies, and that village hall, a converted ball bearings factory, is too large. All numbers are in millions. Revenues refer to existing or projected revenues that could be used for the project without using new tax dollars.

1.
Plan would keep the existing buildings and upgrade HVAC and other systems, would not address space issues.
Cost: $10
Revenues: $10
Gap: 0

2.
Would remodel and upgrade systems in the existing buildings, and add possible additions to the police department.
Cost: $30-36
Revenues: $13-14
Gap: $16-22

3.
Would construct new police station and village hall on existing Burlington Avenue site
Cost: $36-41
Revenues: $13-14
Gap: $22-28

4.
Phase one:
The village would buy vacant property at Lacey Road and Ogden Avenue to build a new police station and fleet management building on the rear of the lot. The village would also move Fire Station No. 1 from its current location to a new facility on the site. The front of the lot would be developed with new commercial buildings, which would provide revenues for the project. The village would also use TIF funds used for property acquisition and other allowable expenses.
Cost: $34-38
Revenues: $18-20
Gap $14-18

Phase Two:
The village would build a new, smaller village hall on the current Burlington Avenue site, and use space currently used by police and fleet management to develop residential and mixed-use buildings. Village projects private development on the site and possible sales taxes would pay for phase two.
Cost: $12-14
Revenues: $10-12
Gap: $0-4 million

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