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Article posted: 1/26/2013 8:00 AM

Hanover Park gets advice on revamping Irving Park Road corridor

By Kimberly Pohl

The struggling Irving Park Road corridor in Hanover Park faces a unique set of challenges.

Vacancy, turnover and tax rates are high, while the commercial stock is overabundant and aging. Established retail destinations such as Schaumburg lead many village residents to do their shopping elsewhere.

That's why officials are welcoming a recent Urban Land Institute Chicago report with recommendations aimed at offering a vision and strategy to revitalize the two-mile stretch between Astor Avenue and Wise Road.

The 20-page document was put together in partnership with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which provided a technical assistance grant.

"I was very impressed with the process and the collaboration these organizations had with people in our community," Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said. "Now, we need to figure out how to navigate through these recommendations."

A panel of 11 experts in development, market feasibility, finance, land use and design convened to study the area in recent months.

Due to the village's socioeconomic diversity and proximity to regional retailers, they found higher-income residents tend to leave Hanover Park to shop. Left unchecked, this dynamic "is likely to spawn a vicious cycle" where fewer national retailers would view the area as a desirable location, exacerbating the village's efforts to attract more people to shop in the community, according to the report.

They also found many businesses along the fast-moving automotive artery are small, independent retailers that lack national brand identity and viability. There are a large number of pawn and tire shops, discouraging higher-end shoppers.

The panel recommended the village make lighting and streetscape improvements so potential shoppers feel more comfortable. Parking lots need reconfiguring and more bike and pedestrian access is needed. The village should fund loan and rebate programs to help update facades.

It's also important for officials to thoughtfully manage Hanover Park's special-use permitting process to help reshape the retail mix, the report stated.

James Matanky, president of Matanky Realty Group Inc. and panel chairman, said the corridor is an eclectic mix of commercial storefronts and strip centers dealing with a 30 percent retail vacancy rate.

"Hanover Park has a tremendous opportunity to strategically consolidate and invest in their retail, and it will take nothing less to decrease vacancy, attract retailers and serve their consumer base," Matanky said.

One of the loftier recommendations is to remove nearly 200,000 square feet of vacant retail lots or buildings from the market. Community uses such as restaurants, adult education and training facilities, and fitness, medical, recreational and cultural centers would be incorporated instead.

The report didn't address how the village would fund taking the property off the market.

"It's pretty frightening to hear we need less retail space, because we need every dollar of revenue," Craig said. "But we're contemplating what steps we can take."

The report's vision for the corridor breaks it into four distinct sections, beginning with locally based and ethnic retail on the west.

The intersection of Irving Park and Barrington roads would feature larger retailers and chains.

Farther east would be a community district near the branch library, with a new community center for youths and teens, soccer fields and a bike trail system.

Finally, the old Menards site and adjacent retail property between Olde Salem and Wise roads would become a mixed-use development with senior housing, multifamily rental housing and a small retail area.

Craig said the report -- which includes concrete short-term steps and also long-term strategies -- is a guide, and that action will depend largely on a rebounding economy and interested developers.

No specific next steps are planned, but village officials will be discussing the report's ideas.

"We need to change some priorities around and make Hanover Park as attractive to businesses as possible," he said. "We're on the cusp of what we want to become."

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