The sluggish economy has put many suburbs in what appears to be a no-win situation: Cash-strapped towns need the revenue that new businesses provide, but they find it harder than ever to get new businesses to open.
The candidates running for three open seats on the Mount Prospect village board say that while their village has done a decent job weathering the economic storm, attracting new businesses to town should be a priority in the years to come.
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Six people are running for the open seats -- three incumbents and three newcomers. The election will be held April 9.
Steven Polit, running for his second full term on the board, said the recent transformation of the Randhurst property at Rand and Elmhurst roads from an indoor mall to an open-air shopping center is a major success story for Mount Prospect, especially since it happened during a recession. Looking forward, Polit said it's time to make the Kensington Business Center a "world class" commercial location.
"We, as the village, need to take a leadership role there and get all the existing business and property owners on the same page," Polit said. "I'd like to see a 'Kensington Business Center Association' formed to provide a single focus."
John Matuszak, also running for his second term, said the village needs to keep a close eye on people's changing shopping habits.
"The Internet has been a huge change, obviously," he said. "Going forward, we should target businesses that can do well on the Internet. Mount Prospect is a great location for companies and retail stores, we just have to be smart and aggressive to get them."
Michael Zadel, running for his fourth term, said he's happy the village has taken steps to annex properties on the south end of the village near O'Hare International Airport. Those could be good sites for warehouse-type developments, he said. He added that while progress in the downtown area has been slow, there are encouraging signs of life.
The village is re-examining the downtown area with the help of Chicago consulting firm, the Lakota Group. An open house meeting on the downtown will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at village hall, 50 S. Emerson St.
"Unfortunately, the economy went down just as we were trying to finish things in the downtown," Zadel said. "But there has been some economic activity there lately, including on the south end, which is great to see. We're starting to re-energize that area."
John Dyslin, a property tax analyst with the Cook County Board of Review, is one of the three new candidates. He said the village has to re-evaluate its business permit process to make sure it runs as quickly and smoothly as possible. He said he would make attracting businesses to the downtown area and the Kensington Business Center a priority.
"I know this is a tough economy, and some aspects of economic development are beyond the village's control," Dyslin said. "But I also think the village has been too slow with areas like the downtown. We need a greater sense of urgency in our development efforts."
Kevin Grouwinkel, a former library trustee, said that while he's pleased with the overhaul of Randhurst, he too wishes more had happened in the downtown area. He said he would encourage more active communication with prospective businesses and existing property owners.
"There's been some progress downtown, but it's been slow," he said. "Bringing new businesses in is a huge help in keeping taxes reasonable for residents. Downtown has to be a top priority going forward."
Carl Arriaza, a business owner running for his first term on the board, said "new eyes" are needed in the area of downtown redevelopment. While retail chains and major restaurants have opened at Randhurst, he said the village must work harder to get smaller businesses.
"That's one thing that's missing out there," he said. "And it's not just Randhurst, but the downtown and the other retail centers, too. Small businesses are key to the health of a village like ours."