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posted: 10/16/2013 9:16 AM

Editorial: The cautious enthusiasm of re-imagining downtowns

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  • Prospect Avenue south of the tracks with its landscaped median and small shops in downtown Mount Prospect.

      Prospect Avenue south of the tracks with its landscaped median and small shops in downtown Mount Prospect.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

One of the more important jobs elected municipal officials deal with is developing or, as in most suburban cases, redeveloping downtowns.

The issue comes up every election until the downtown finally takes shape -- in whatever way a given community feels is important to its economic and civic well-being.

Officials in towns such as Lake Zurich and West Chicago have had discussions in 2013 on what their downtowns should look like,

Naperville is often mentioned as a community that developed its downtown right, first bringing residents to the area by building a riverwalk along the DuPage River and then enticing businesses that continue to draw customers to the area day and night.

Arlington Heights and other communities along railroad tracks built housing in their downtowns to attract commuters and then built entertainment and commercial districts to keep them there.

That's what Mount Prospect began doing in the 1990s as leaders looked to take advantage of the Metra line that bisects the town at Route 83. An ongoing lawsuit regarding eminent domain and the recession stalled progress over the last decade, but the hope that more will be done remains.

Mayor Arlene Juracek, elected in April, has made it her dream to get it done by the 100th anniversary of the village in 2017.

"That's what I want to happen and I can't wait to get to work on it," she said in May.

The first tangible step was taken last week when planning consultants unveiled a vision of downtown Mount Prospect that would be transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly, citing streets both north and south of the Metra tracks as potential hubs of activity.

It's exciting for a town about to enter its second century.

The hard part, even if agreement is reached on the vision, is making it happen. To do that, village leaders need to hear from residents and business owners -- just as they did as part of this report -- and get additional feedback.

We like what we've heard so far from trustees -- both from those wanting more "solutions" to the unique problems the downtown faces and those who are ready to embrace new ideas.

"I really like the plan," said Trustee Richard Rogers. "The south side of the tracks could be a very exciting place if it's done correctly."

That's the key. Mount Prospect already has done much to improve its downtown, but clearly more can and should be done to make it even more vibrant.

Merging the history and culture of the village with a new look, new residents and new businesses is a delicate balancing act that needs focus and input from all corners.

All those who care about the community -- now's the time to get involved.

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