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Article posted: 10/26/2012 5:30 AM

Hanover Park at crossroads with rundown shopping center

By Kimberly Pohl

Hanover Park's effort to improve the curb appeal of one of its most visible commercial centers has come to a "crossroads," village officials say.

Nearly a year after the village made the unorthodox move of purchasing the dilapidated Hanover Square Shopping Center on Barrington Road for $2.8 million, officials are frustrated with the lack of progress that's been made.

There are promising leads on new tenants, but no signed contracts. There have been steps toward fixing maintenance issues, but no movement on revamping the rundown facade seen daily by thousands.

"We failed at what we were setting out to do, which was to change the appearance of that shopping center and make it more attractive," Village Trustee Bill Cannon said at a special board meeting this week.

Without neglecting the current Hanover Square tenants, officials say the answer might be to think bigger.

Village Manager Juliana Maller, who took the post Aug. 20, proposed expanding the village's scope by grouping the shopping center with several vacant properties north of Lake Street. The hope, she said, would be for a developer to see potential for a large-scale project, possibly one with residential, entertainment and dining components.

Those attractions tie in with Hanover Park's comprehensive plan to one day have a bustling Village Center and transit-oriented development near the Metra station.

"This is the area that's a gateway to our community," Maller said.

Hanover Square is located in an underperforming tax increment financing district. Maller said there's concern about the stability of the revenue it's generating, and that the TIF district wouldn't be able to support a loan or bond issue exceeding $1.25 million -- well short of the improvements officials say are needed. One plan she saw called for a $9 million investment.

Further, taking out such a loan likely would limit the TIF's ability to fund any other redevelopment along certain portions of Barrington Road and Lake and Church streets. A TIF district is funded with property tax money above what goes to local governments from new development.

Cannon was hesitant to get on board, saying that coupling Hanover Square with other properties is getting too far away from the village's goal of "stabilizing" the center and eventually returning it to private ownership. He didn't see how "grouping together a broken-down shopping center and property we don't even own" would speed the process or attract a buyer.

But Maller and Village Planner Katie Bowman said the village could leverage its $2.8 million investment to make sure the development is done in a cohesive manner. If there's interest from developers, she predicted one could be selected in six to eight months.

"Owning this piece of property gives us the opportunity to be a player," Maller said.

The board eventually directed Maller, who's working with an understaffed community development department, to research the cost of putting out proposals and hiring a consultant to lead the more ambitious effort.

"If the cost is ridiculous, then we have our answer," Cannon said.

Whatever comes next, Mayor Rod Craig said officials aren't second-guessing their decision to buy the shopping center last year.

"It was the right thing to do because we needed to make a significant change," Craig said. "Things are in the works, and that property wasn't going anywhere before."

Bigger: Mayor isn't second-guessing decision to buy shopping center

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