There's one word Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk says he can use to describe the city's past year: Progress.
"As we look back at the past year in Wheaton and the progress made, I look forward to what 2014 will bring," he said Thursday during his annual State of the City address at Arrowhead Golf Club.
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He said he also believes there are a lot of new ways to keep the community moving forward.
Gresk touched on economic development, new community events, plans for downtown, financial achievements, improvements in technology and other progress that occurred in 2013.
Roughly 120 people attended the event, which was hosted by the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Clare Woods Academy, a private school for children and young adults with learning and developmental disabilities that moved into Wheaton last summer. Gresk works as development director for the school.
Gresk highlighted several positive stories from the past year, including the opening of Mariano's Fresh Market, which created 400 jobs; the opening of Wheaton 121, a 306-unit, luxury apartment complex; and the soon-to-open DuPage Medical Group building on the former Jewel-Osco property at 150 E. Willow Ave.
"The three projects in combination provide an economic stimulus for the downtown Wheaton area and its future," he said. More than 20 other businesses also moved into town last year.
The city issued a total of 47 commercial remodeling permits and 28 commercial re-occupancy permits last year, which Gresk said was a good sign because it indicates businesses are staying and filling vacant spaces.
In addition to commercial development, Gresk said he was pleased with the 49 single-family home permits that were issued last year, which was a 69 percent increase from 2012.
"I don't necessarily think we're out of the woods yet, but the economy is definitely on a positive bounce," he said.
A downtown proposal that includes plans for festival streets, a central park concept, new streetscape design, improved signage and creating gateways to distinguish entry into downtown Wheaton is now complete, Gresk said. Roughly $65 million in work has been identified, which Gresk said is "quite costly," so the next step will be figuring out how to implement parts of the plan over time.
"I think south of the tracks has always been an interesting challenge," he said. "There is that corner at Main and Liberty that we'd like to draw some attention to. It's always challenging, but it is going the right way."
Gresk encouraged residents to attend the final hearing on the downtown plan at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, during a city council meeting.
Financially, the city maintained its AAA bond rating, was awarded a distinguished budget presentation award and decreased the property tax levy for a fourth year, Gresk said.
A resolution to implement a new citywide software system has helped city staff with everything from payroll to parking tickets, Gresk said. An increased social media presence also helped keep residents informed during the recent cold snap and flooding last April that resulted in the city declaring a state of emergency.
The North Main Street flood control project is mostly complete except for some landscaping, and sanitary sewer improvements are ongoing, Gresk said.
Over the past year, some changes in leadership in the city included the swearing in of William Schultz as the new fire chief and Betsy Adamowski taking over as the new library director.
Gresk commended the chamber, the Downtown Wheaton Association and Wheaton Park District for sponsoring a variety of community events throughout the year. He also emphasized how important the more than 100 citizen volunteers are who serve on the city's boards and commissions.
"If you're looking for a way to get involved in the community, I encourage you to consider becoming part of one of our boards or commissions," he said. There are, at present, 19 vacancies on six different city commissions.