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Article updated: 3/7/2013 2:31 PM

Lombard Dist. 1 candidates compete to represent downtown

Greg Gron

Greg Gron

 
Deborah Messineo-Jones

Deborah Messineo-Jones

 
Dan Whittington

Dan Whittington

 
 Looser regulations on outdoor seating helped improve business last year in downtown Lombard. The three candidates for trustee in District 1, which includes the main intersection of downtown at St. Charles Road and Park Avenue, say the area is important to Lombard’s success.

Looser regulations on outdoor seating helped improve business last year in downtown Lombard. The three candidates for trustee in District 1, which includes the main intersection of downtown at St. Charles Road and Park Avenue, say the area is important to Lombard's success.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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The majority of downtown Lombard is up for grabs in the race for District 1 trustee.

The district includes the main downtown intersection of St. Charles Road and Park Avenue, and the three candidates seeking the seat all say Lombard's historic commercial center is an important place to foster development and activity.

Incumbent Greg Gron and challengers Dan Whittington and Deborah Messineo-Jones offered different perspectives on how downtown should be improved during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald.

Gron, 63, who retired from the construction industry and now owns a pizza and sandwich shop, said downtown needs consistent advocates because finding tenants for some of its old and oddly shaped buildings takes time.

He said the historic Lombard Hotel, at the southwest corner of St. Charles and Park, could be used as offices and a dance floor.

"There are a number of things that could be done to that building, it just takes time," said Gron, who first was elected trustee in 2001.

He said he would like to see a satellite village office downtown, although that idea has not yet moved forward, and he thinks a pedestrian tunnel planned for the Metra station will help connect downtown's core with the area immediately south of the tracks.

"We've got a good core here," Gron said about the downtown, which saw seven new businesses and one expansion in 2012. "The tunnel is going to be constructed this summer, starting just before Lilac Time. That will definitely aid in connecting the south side of the railroad tracks and Lilacia Park and the historical society and the library with the downtown."

Whittington, 58, and director of sales for Illinois Business Systems, said he's "Mr. Downtown." He has been a board member of Lombard Town Centre, the nonprofit group that works to bring businesses and vitality to downtown, for six years, including three as president.

He said he worked to ease restrictions on outdoor dining at downtown restaurants and leave decorative lights up year-round.

"About half the restaurants can have decent outdoor seating and that really attracts people," Whittington said. "Imagine summertime in downtown -- outdoor seating and you've got twinkling lights all over the place. It says 'Hey, come on in.'"

Lombard Town Centre has been partially funded by the village since its formation in 2005, and has received $512,790 in village money since then, according to community development department figures. Whittington said funding needs to continue as downtown advocates look to fill remaining vacancies and court an anchor business for the area's eastern side -- possibly a microbrewery with a tasting room.

"The village has to keep partnering with Lombard Town Centre. That relationship cannot change," he said. "If it does, you're going to see a dramatic decrease in what's going on downtown because you won't have anyone taking care of downtown."

Messineo-Jones, a 49-year-old biochemical and molecular research assistant, said residents have told her they would like more restaurants downtown. She said the area has too many hair salons and does not need a microbrewery or any other alcohol-related establishments.

She is running her campaign mainly on issues related to Terrace View Pond, a few blocks northwest of downtown, which she says needs "a biologically healthier water condition," but she did say downtown is important to Lombard's success.

"I'd like to see more activity in the downtown area," Messineo-Jones said. "A little bit more diversity in what is available."

Voters can choose from among Gron, Whittington and Messineo-Jones in the April 9 election for a 4-year term as District 1 trustee.

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