Is it a problem that the Metra railroad tracks effectively create two separate shopping districts in downtown Mount Prospect, one north of the tracks and the other south?
In the past, some have said yes. But a new draft report about the future of the downtown suggests that the answer could be no.
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The report, completed by the Lakota Group, a Chicago consulting firm, recommends that the Prospect Avenue shopping district south of the railroad tracks be promoted as a unique area all its own, separate and distinct from the rest of the downtown.
The report does not call for any major changes to the Prospect Avenue district. The area, which runs along Prospect from Main Street west, already boasts inviting sidewalks, plenty of parking and a number of unique locally owned businesses, the report points out. Keefer's Pharmacy, Al's Shoe Service and Dave's Specialty Foods are among the businesses located there.
Lakota said that making a few streetscape improvements and branding the area with signs would be enough to create a strong identity for the district, which in turn would attract shoppers and new businesses to the area. The changes include measures to calm the flow of car traffic and increase pedestrian access and comfort.
Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said she's intrigued by the idea.
"Clearly, they believe the south side can become as much of a destination as the north," she said. "I think it's something worth exploring."
A couple of Prospect Avenue business leaders said they're not opposed to the recommendations, but they asserted that the street's businesses are doing fine.
"I'm very happy here," said Larry DeAngelo, owner of Al's Shoe Service at 11 W. Prospect Ave. DeAngelo's father started the business 77 years ago in Chicago; it has been in Mount Prospect for 10 years.
"The tracks do cause a visibility problem, I guess," DeAngelo said. "But I've never heard anyone really complain about it. I see this as a great location, actually. It helps that we're a unique type of business -- there aren't many other shoe-repair places nearby."
Jerry Pospisil, who owned Keefer's Pharmacy at 5 W. Prospect Ave. for more than 30 years and still works there part time, said the real key to the area thriving in the future is communication among the business owners.
"I always tried to do that myself -- it helps create a sense of community," Pospisil said. "And you can help each other out. If a customer at one business is looking for a particular service, that owner can direct him to another shop in the area."
The recommendations regarding Prospect Avenue are just one part of Lakota's extensive report, which outlines redevelopment possibilities all over the downtown area within a 20-year time frame. Some of the suggestions have been talked about for years -- redevelopment of the "small triangle" site bounded by Northwest Highway, Route 83 and Busse Avenue is one example. Others are new. The report suggests, for instance, that the property on Central Road now occupied by the Mount Prospect post office could be redeveloped in the future.
Lakota's report, compiled over 16 months, is still a draft document. A public hearing on the report will be held Thursday, Nov. 14. Village officials urge residents to view the report, which is available at thelakotagroup.com/mountprospect, and make comments at the public hearing.
"We want public input," Juracek said. "It's vital."
The village board will likely vote on the report early in 2014. If approved, it will be added to the village's Comprehensive Plan and guide future redevelopment efforts downtown.