DOWNERS GROVE – The future of downtown Downers Grove will be decided over the next few years, but the Village Council took some initial steps at its Sept. 18 meeting.
“We want to lay the groundwork as a council and a community for future councils to make decisions about where do we go in the next five, 10, 20 years with respect to the downtown,” Mayor Martin Tully said prior to a council discussion of the issue.
Specific decisions about the downtown’s direction will be made by future village councils, but the current group can be instrumental in formulating the direction, Tully said.
“What we really want to do is a lot of the legwork, a lot of the homework,” he said. "We’re planning at a high level on what the future may hold.”
The council's discussion was preceded by a presentation given by Assistant Village Manager Mike Baker.
Baker said planning, partnerships and financial tools will be the keys to the redevelopment of the downtown area.
Much of the planning will take place with an eye on December 2020, which is when both the downtown tax increment financing district and special service area expire.
Downtown property and business owners in the SSA pay a tax, which is the primary source of funding for the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corp.
The corporation markets downtown Downers Grove by recruiting tenants, producing and marketing events and creating promotional materials. The organization has been successful, including in preventing vacancies in the business district.
“When the SSA expires in 2020, the Downtown Management Corp. will be left without a primary funding source,” Baker said.
He added funding is a critical component of the future of downtown.
"Funding sources do not exist for many of the major recommended improvements that were identified in the comprehensive plan," Baker said. "This really represents the heart of the issue. After the expiration of the TIF and the SSA, there will still be ongoing and additional expenses without the available resources to support them. In other words, we expect to have a gap.”
As a result, the council must ultimately select funding sources to bridge that gap, he said.
Village officials will work closely with the Downtown Management Corp and its board on the future of the downtown area and update the parking study, Baker said.
Commissioner William Waldack said planning the future of the downtown presents several challenges.
“We still have a lot of work to do, we still have to invest or we’ll go back to being the downtown we wanted to replace years ago," Waldack said. “We do have to keep investing in our downtown.”
Commissioner Nicole Walus said the Downtown Management Corp. must be a part of the village's future, especially because the organization has prevented vacancies in the business district.
“Downtown Management, a nearly 0 percent vacancy rate, these are things we need to keep around," Walus said.
Commissioner Marge Earl said the resident feedback on the downtown area wasn't always as positive.
“There weren’t always compliments," Earl said. "And now we get as many compliments on the downtown as we get complaints or maybe more so than we get complaints, and that never used to happen. We are really coming out on the upside of this."