A temporary sign will soon designate downtown East Dundee as a "culinary district" as part of a marketing push to attract businesses and visitors to the area.
Donated by developers of a new mixed-use building at 311 Barrington Ave., the sign reinforces an ongoing theme that has largely defined the village's downtown redevelopment, Village President Lael Miller said. East Dundee officials, stakeholders and a city planning firm decided years ago to brand the downtown as a culinary district in order to highlight its abundance of restaurants and food-related shops and events.
"Now we're really refocusing our efforts," Miller said. "We need to look at how we kind of ramp up our marketing for this."
Trustees this week gave a unanimous thumbs-up to installing the donated sign along River Street, though the exact placement has yet to be determined based on visibility and utilities. The approval included a caveat requiring the board to reconsider the sign in a year, Village Administrator Jennifer Johnsen said.
Several business and property owners are forming a downtown association and are exploring plans for more permanent signage, such as an archway across River Street, she said. The village is expected to be involved in those discussions as well.
Several years ago, talks about implementing the culinary district concept included specific marketing materials and partnerships with local community colleges. Those plans were never fully realized, Miller said, as the village focused largely on filling vacant lots and storefronts.
Johnsen also pointed to significant personnel turnover in the last year, including the retirement of former Village Administrator Bob Skurla and elimination of marketing and economic development positions. The village intends to reevaluate the culinary theme under its new staff leadership, she said.
"We've been very proactive in economic development ... and we have been in discussions with how to recruit additional restaurants," Johnsen said. "What we're trying to get our arms wrapped around is, we have the culinary district concept, but how do we implement it and what does it really mean?"
In the meantime, Miller said, marking the downtown with signage could generate economic interest by demonstrating the village's long-term vision. Several new restaurants have opened recently in the downtown, he said, and more are coming, including in the available retail space at 311 Barrington Ave.
"It's a work in progress," Miller said. "Hopefully they'll all fit into the new culinary district, and participate with the village and business group to accelerate our progress here."