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updated: 9/24/2012 8:41 PM

New Wheeling park hailed for public-private cooperation

New Wheeling park hailed as a model for public-private partnerships

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  • The small Illumination Park on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling was dedicated this week. The park, built largely with private funds, is being hailed as a shining example of public-private cooperation.

       The small Illumination Park on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling was dedicated this week. The park, built largely with private funds, is being hailed as a shining example of public-private cooperation.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • David Kolssak, right, built Illumination Park with the help of Wheeling tax increment financing funds and dedicated it to his father, Louis Kolssak II.

       David Kolssak, right, built Illumination Park with the help of Wheeling tax increment financing funds and dedicated it to his father, Louis Kolssak II.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Louis Kolssak praises the park his son built, but he was surprised when it was dedicated to him.

       Louis Kolssak praises the park his son built, but he was surprised when it was dedicated to him.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Flowers, tall pillars and concrete benches mark Illumination Park on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling.

       Flowers, tall pillars and concrete benches mark Illumination Park on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Faced with a small, otherwise unbuildable plot of land right smack in front of his business' main door, David Kolssak found a use that recognizes Wheeling's modern, more attractive Milwaukee Avenue and also pays tribute to his father's contributions to the village.

The new Illumination Park, dedicated last week at a ceremony attended by his father and village leaders, is an example of what can happen through public-private cooperation, Kolssak said.

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The small park, located near TURNkey Information Technology at 210 S. Milwaukee Ave., features colored lights atop three tall, white pillars, surrounded by benches and flower gardens.

Kolssak said he looks forward to changing the programmable lights with the seasons -- first orange for Halloween, then red and green and blue and white for Christmas and Hanukkah.

Two long benches, also white concrete, invite pedestrians to sit and enjoy roses, hydrangeas, coleus and marigolds.

Kolssak, who dedicated the park to his father, Louis Kolssak II, said he initially thought of installing a waterfall but decided lighting would have a greater impact.

"I'm high-tech, visionary and forward-thinking," he said. "Lighting is a way we can make a statement and celebrate holidays, and we don't have to string up lights."

Kolssak funded most of the cost of the park and an adjacent parking lot expansion, which included pouring a lot of concrete after excavation and removing debris from half an acre. The village chipped in about 25 percent -- roughly $69,000 -- through tax increment financing, where an area's property taxes that go to local governments are frozen at a certain point and taxes coming in about that point go into redevelopment.

The new park is another welcome addition to a Milwaukee Avenue's streetscape that's changing for the better, Kolssak said.

"When we moved to Wheeling (in 1974), the street looked a lot different," he said. "There were overhead power lines, rundown homes, some abandoned, and an abandoned hotel."

Village President Judy Abruscato agreed, saying the park is "a great example of private-public cooperation and honors a well-deserving gentleman, his father."

As a plaque on one of pillars points out, a visible symbol of the elder Kolssak's impact on Wheeling is the white-pillared Kolssak Funeral Home on the other side of Milwaukee Avenue. The family business, which started in 1933 in Chicago, expanded to Wheeling in 1974, then grew over the years with additions and renovations.

Both David and his father are particularly proud of Louis' leadership in persuading the Illinois Department of Transportation to take less land from the east side of Milwaukee Avenue when it widened the road in 1996 and placed utility lines underground.

The shift of plans benefitted restaurants in the area best known as "Restaurant Row."

"It was his pioneering spirit of getting people together, and getting IDOT to do anything is difficult," said David Kolssak. "He had a big impact."

Louis Kolssak, who also serves on the village's board of fire and police commissioners, calls the park a showpiece that adds a "different dimension to Milwaukee Avenue."

He was surprised his son dedicated it to him.

"A lot of money has been put into Milwaukee Avenue to make the street and the village a more appealing place," he said.

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