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posted: 4/1/2013 7:13 PM

Mayoral candidates debate Arlington Heights' business climate

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  • From left: Ron Drake; Thomas Hayes and Mark Hellner.

    From left: Ron Drake; Thomas Hayes and Mark Hellner.


Trustee Tom Hayes contends the village has made strides toward making Arlington Heights a more business friendly community, but his two opponents in next week's mayoral race say there is much more to be done.

Hayes and other village officials cite several new programs, an influx of new businesses in 2012 and a recent award as evidence that the business community is doing well in Arlington Heights, but Mark Hellner and Ron Drake have both said throughout the campaign that if either of them is elected mayor they will work to further streamline the process and make it easier for new business to come to town.

Hayes maintains that the problem is lack of manpower, not the process.

"We need another John Melaniphy," he said, referring to the village's business and development coordinator who works to retain and bring in businesses. Because of budget limitations the village hasn't hired new employees in several years, but Hayes recently proposed an idea he said he hopes will help.

During a budget meeting last month, Hayes proposed a new partnership with the chamber of commerce to focus on keeping and bringing more small businesses to the village.

Officials are still working out the exact details, but under the concept, Arlington Heights would fund about 50 percent of the costs for a chamber employee's salary and benefits not to exceed $50,000. That employee would report to the village and the chamber and work primarily on retention and recruitment of small businesses in town.

Earlier this year the village board also approved a streamlining measure for small restaurants, outdoor cafes and carryout restaurants.

These businesses can now go through a quick administrative review with village staff members, bypassing the plan commission and village board entirely, said Charles Perkins, director of Planning and Community Development.

The waiver applies to sit-down restaurants no larger than 1,500 square feet, all carryout restaurants regardless of size and outdoor cafes in conjunction with a legally established restaurant. Perkins said that about three out of 10 businesses who apply for permits would qualify for the waiver.

The village was also recently honored with the Chaddick Award for "its exemplary, ongoing commitment to reviewing and improving its development approval process."

In 2012, 113 new businesses opened in Arlington Heights, Perkins said.

"We don't have a real problem of being business friendly, it is more that there is a negative perception out there," Hayes said.

Drake, who was mayor of Avondale, Ariz., during a period of population and economic growth, has said Arlington Heights is not doing enough to help businesses.

"Business is my top priority," he said. "We need to be business friendly. (We need to) streamline business processes and applications and change the culture at city hall so everyone knows Arlington Heights is open for business."

Drake suggested building what he called "a sustainable economy," looking at what kinds of businesses Arlington Heights doesn't already have and what kinds of businesses would be able to withstand tough times.

For example, while in Avondale he brought in a number of car dealerships to increase the tax base. He also suggested eliminating or combining some required reviews to make the approval process easier.

Attorney Mark Hellner has said he wants to create an online business portal as a one-stop place for new businesses to find out about approvals and permits. Hellner has also said the village's sign codes are too strict and they limit new businesses from making their own choices about how to promote their business.

He also suggested using timetable requirements to speed up the approval process and keep the village accountable.

Hellner also suggested creating an Arts District in the downtown, anchored by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, to bring in other similar businesses.

"We need to adopt an attitude of partnership with business," Hellner said. "Our motto should be, 'We're from the Village of Arlington Heights and we are here to help you get your business going.' That means we can't have unreasonably inhibitive review and permitting processes."

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