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posted: 4/29/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Lessons of Libertyville's downtown success story

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If Libertyville's story can serve as a model for successful downtown renovations -- and we believe it can -- then what are some of the key lessons to take from it? Some observations stand out.

One, it takes time. As Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak reported on Sunday, some of the initial supporters of the MainStreet Libertyville approach that's now celebrating 25 years in operation were understandably eager to see quick results from the village's investments. When they accepted the notion that results may not be evident for years and focused on nurturing and monitoring promising projects, they provided the opportunity for development to take root and grow.

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Second, it takes money. Or, perhaps a combination of effort and resourcefulness is a better way to define it. Certainly, money was a factor; the village has contributed $12 million over the course of this initiative. But private interests have invested more than five times that amount -- $63 million. In many ways, Libertyville's success wasn't so much about coming up with the $12 million as it was about attracting and encouraging developers and entrepreneurs willing to pony up their portion of the $63 million.

Most importantly, it takes cooperation. Libertyville's downtown has revived and flourished because private interests and public officials adapted to each others' needs along the way to producing a shared vision for the look and feel of the downtown area. And, the community demonstrated an additional level of commitment via the significant volunteer contributions through the MainStreet program.

The results today are self-evident. Blocks filled with contemporary shops in an appealing historical setting. Property values that have significantly increased in the downtown area. Streets so full of diners, shoppers and other visitors that the town's new problem is providing adequate parking space.

Libertyville is by no means alone in engaging a public-private cooperative venture to enhance its downtown redevelopment. At least five other suburban communities -- Batavia, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Lombard and Waukegan -- are among the 41 towns participating in Main Street Illinois statewide. To varying degrees, numerous towns throughout the suburbs also have undertaken significant independent projects, from communities like Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights along the Northwest Highway corridor, to cities like Naperville, which has built a thriving downtown with a particularly successful private-public partnership in the development of the centerpiece Riverwalk.

Nor has every project met with immediate success. The city of Aurora, for example, is making a second stab at revitalizing the area around its casino after an initial development plan stalled.

But all these downtown efforts share characteristics that the Libertyville model emphasizes -- a clear vision, a willingness to invest substantial resources to promote it and, perhaps above all, a commitment to constantly monitor and marshal those resources until the vision becomes a self-sustaining reality. It's no easy process. The 25 years it has taken Libertyville to reach its current point are surely testament to that. But it can be rewarding, too, as Libertyville's MainStreet success equally demonstrates.

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