Municipal leaders always try to put on a good face when recounting the past year for business leaders. But the reports Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer and Wheeling Village President Judy Abruscato gave the Wheeling/Prospect Heights Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday were particularly cheery.
Helmer announced that Prospect Heights has shed its "Mayberry" image.
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"We are no longer the poor stepchild of the Northwest suburbs," he said. "We have a balanced budget, surplus funds, and a sales tax incentive sharing program."
Helmer said after 10 more miles of street work this spring the city's roads will be "virtually 100 percent" repaired and replaced. He talked about reopening the police station that had been closed to the public, hiring a dozen additional police officers and ending furloughs of city staff.
Abruscato was slightly more reserved, but still positive.
"Things are pretty good in Wheeling," she said. "But while it's clear that we're on the right path, it's just as clear that the free and easy days that we enjoyed prior to the Great Recession won't be coming back any time soon."
Abruscato said Wheeling issued permits for construction valued at more than $51 million last year, up $4 million from the previous year.
Industrial vacancy in the village is below 6 percent, which she said is one of the lowest in the area, and the village has been getting inquiries for new industrial construction, "which would have been hard to imagine not too long ago." Two vacant properties on Palatine Road are now filled, including the 170,000 square feet that Cano Packaging took over.
Meanwhile, Helmer reported the leasing of more than 150,000 square feet of vacant commercial space in Prospect Heights, including two grocery stores. Ultra Foods expected to open in May in the vacant Dominick's at Prospect Crossings on Rand Road, and Save A Lot is renovating the former Irv's menswear in the Palwaukee Center on Palatine Road and Milwaukee Avenue.
Wheeling has undertaken nontraditional programs with the industrial community, such as partnering with Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and computer companies to give businesses access to powerful computing tools while teaching local students design and production skills.
Also unusual is the village's decision to make municipal-owned properties more attractive to developers through tactics such as performing preliminary permit work, Abruscato said.
On a note of civic pride, Abruscato invited her audience to visit the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago on Wolf Road to see the new traditional pavilion, a gift from the Korean city of Busan. She also noted that Forbes magazine named Bob Chinn's Crab House the top-grossing restaurant in the country.
Both leaders mentioned Wheeling's Heritage Park renovation that will help control Des Plaines River flooding in Prospect Heights and other communities downstream.
Helmer, however, apparently will need a few more accomplishments to put Prospect Heights on the map. He told of accompanying members of the Theiszmann family to the Daley Center in Chicago for the ceremony lighting the city's official Christmas tree, a 75-foot spruce the family donated.
During the lighting ceremony, Helmer said, Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaned over and asked "Where in the heck is Prospect Heights?"