Here's a bit of positive news to reflect on this Christmas Eve morning: Development is returning to the vernacular of community planners in the suburbs. Of course, it's far too early to see any of the projects as evidence of a return to growth and prosperity in 2013, but throughout the suburbs in recent weeks, we've seen community leaders and business people talking more and more about proposals that could help erase another term that is all too common in suburban conversations these days -- long-vacant.
In Palatine last week, the subject was the former Mia Cucina site in the heart of downtown that has been vacant since the restaurant closed in 2006. In Naperville, city officials announced they're working with North Central College to turn a deteriorating strip mall along Washington Street into a park and entryway to the college campus. The Arlington Heights village board approved a framework for a mix of residential and commercial projects in an emerging area near Northwest Highway and Dryden Avenue. Vernon Hills listened to plans from the owners of the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain for a 40,000-square-foot facility at Westfield Hawthorn mall, which itself is undergoing a $40 million to $50 million upgrade. A couple of months ago, Rolling Meadows approved financial arrangements that will help developers complete a $4.5 million renovation of the -- sigh -- long-vacant Dominick's shopping center property on Kirchoff Road.
As with any development, all these projects need to be monitored carefully by town leaders, but after so many years of reporting losses and closures of commercial and civic projects, it's reassuring to note tones of hope and optimism about building again.
"We feel that the location has potential, and could be our focal point as an organization," wrote Scott Ward, an officer for the Palatine-based Tap House Management Group, of the business's plans at the Mia Cucina site.
"We're excited to be part of the Westfield redevelopment," Lisa Warren, a Dave & Buster's vice president told the Vernon Hills village board.
"We're happy that North Central College stepped up to the plate," Mayor George Pradel said of Naperville's agreement that aims to add to the popular Riverwalk's charms.
Happy. Excited. Potential. These are concepts heard all too rarely over the past five years regarding commercial and residential growth throughout the suburbs. We're not so naive as to just assume each of these projects will be successful or that they won't all need careful management from town officials as well as developers. But we have watched a vibrant business community come to life this year on the stagnant site of Mount Prospect's former Randhurst Shopping Center, so we know that big ideas can always have promise.
And it's just refreshing as another year in this stultifying recession comes to a close to contemplate that people are again willing to conceive -- and nurture -- big ideas.