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updated: 4/23/2014 5:28 AM

Wheaton chooses firm to prepare first economic development plan

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In an effort to insure Wheaton is doing everything it can to be a "desirable, healthy and vibrant community," the city council agreed to hire a consultant firm Monday that will develop the city's first economic development plan.

Deerfield-based Gruen Gruen and Associates will be paid a maximum of $25,000 to prepare a report that will summarize historical development patterns, housing conditions and strategies that will encourage property maintenance, development, reinvestment and redevelopment throughout the city.

Jim Kozik, director of planning, said staff members will meet with the firm next week to start the process. A report is expected to be presented sometime in the next six to nine weeks, he said.

In 2011, the city council set strategic goals that relate to four different categories, including economic development. They agreed that preparing an economic development plan would be one outcome they hoped to achieve in that category.

Kozik said the firm recognizes that the city is largely residential and will examine, in part, how housing has an impact on the city's economic development.

"We're pretty much a bedroom community," he said, adding that Wheaton doesn't have large employers or industrial areas like other suburbs.

The scope of work has been divided into five categories.

• Identify and describe historical development patterns, demographics and housing conditions. That will include a focused study of population and household trends in Wheaton and a review of future population and household projections.

• Tour the city's residential neighborhoods and interview local real estate brokers, builders and property owners to determine what attracted them to the area.

• Talk to representatives from the school and park district, Wheaton College and health care institutions to find out how their resources can be leveraged with other organizations in the city.

• Determine the types of commercial uses that improve the quality of life in Wheaton and make it a desirable community. That includes secondary real estate market data for nonresidential uses, sales tax data and interviews with real estate developers, brokers and commercial property owners.

• Complete a report with policy recommendations and recommendations for additional research or outreach tasks.

"In the past when we've had these types of discussions it's always been limited to a certain area of the city," said Councilman Phil Suess. "What I think is important about this is this is broader based, across the city in total, and I think that's very important."

Mayor Michael Gresk agreed, noting that while the downtown area seems to dominate economic development discussions, there are "other key economic centers" in the city.

Councilman Thor Saline said he was impressed with a presentation Gruen Gruen and Associates made last fall and said he believes the firm will be able to lay out how the city can incrementally implement some of the things that will be recommended in the plan.

"I look forward to that because it's such a big plan overall that knowing what to do first to make the biggest impact with our dollars will be helpful to us," he said.

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