How has new Long Grove slate helped village revitalization?
The now sleepy village of Long Grove once drew big crowds to its small boutique shops and summer weekend festivals, and some say new restaurants and later business hours could help revive a downtown plagued by too many vacant buildings.
A slate of three trustees who ran on a platform that included establishing a long-range plan for revitalizing all of Long Grove, not just the downtown, and increasing fiscal transparency took office about one year ago after winning a bitter contest that ousted two incumbents by a ratio of 2 to 1.
Their campaign was sparked in part by the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to create a property tax that would fund road repairs. It was the previous village board that placed the unpopular proposal on the ballot.
Perhaps not surprisingly, opinions are split on whether the new trustees have advanced revitalization of the village or stymied efforts to breathe new life into the community.
The slate, called Voice of Long Grove, consisted of incumbent Stan Borys and newcomers Bill Jacob and Michael Sarlitto.
Village President Angie Underwood said the current village board is "making the same efforts" to improve the downtown area as previous boards over the past five years.
"The key to downtown is a lot lies with the private property owners," she said.
The most important of those private property owners is the Forsythe family, which in recent years has bought many properties downtown. The family backed the other slate in last year's election, Investing in Long Grove, which was more supportive of spending tax dollars on downtown infrastructure.
"The new trustees were pretty skeptical about the motivation of major investors, and that skepticism is not helping the village," Underwood said.
The Forsythes didn't return multiple requests for comment on how they view the village's current political climate.
But Borys disagrees that he and his Voice for Long Grove colleagues are skeptical of the Forsythes specifically. The long-range plan the slate wanted to see before investing public money in the downtown won't be done before fall.
"When I look at current owners of some buildings downtown, you have to look and say there clearly needs to be more done with the buildings," Borys said. Some of the sidewalks and buildings are in disrepair, and they should be on the mend by now, he added.
Borys said the overall functioning of the village board has "vastly, vastly improved" since the election, but there was a 3-3 divide on a vote last year to allow video gambling in the village. Underwood cast the tiebreaking vote to allow video gambling, siding with trustees Lori Lyman, John Marshall and George Yaeger.
Borys and Sarlitto said they voted against the plan after learning that about two-thirds of residents who responded to a villagewide survey were against video gambling.
Underwood said a majority of restaurants and merchants said they needed it for their businesses to survive.
"I was originally not a fan, but after discussion, the fears and things brought up proved to not be a problem," Underwood said.
And Ryan Messner, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said video gambling is "one of the things really keeping our downtown alive."
Yaeger said despite the video gambling vote, he doesn't see the board as more polarized than in years past.
"With new trustees we have fresh perspectives," Yaeger said. "My analogy for this board is we have six sharp knives in the drawer all working toward moving the village forward, led by an also sharp village president."
What's next for Long Grove?
Messner said many of the businesses that once caused people to flock to downtown Long Grove -- such as smaller, boutique stores -- can now conduct business online. He said Long Grove attracted seven new businesses last year, but the village needs a better streetscape to bring in more, and that takes cooperation between leaders and the downtown property owners.
"Our night life is also starting to evolve now, which we've never had," Messner said.
But to continue developing a night scene, Messner said, downtown businesses should consider staying open longer to keep people downtown.
Underwood said the village doesn't have any ordinances prohibiting extended hours, but it has encouraged businesses to keep similar closing hours. And she said the downtown area doesn't have good lighting. The installation of streetlights in the area is part of road improvements planned some time between 2017 and 2019.
Could restaurants be the key to revitalizing downtown? Several have come or announced plans in the last year.
Chicago-based Finch's Beer moved some of its operations to Long Grove last fall. An out-of-state couple opened Village Pizza & BBQ earlier this month in the former Long Grove Cafe building.
And Long Grove finally has another store to replace the Apple Haus which closed in 2012, to the dismay of many area residents.
John Bell of Lake Zurich's Bell's Apple Orchard, which was open for nearly 60 years, plans to open Bell's Apple Orchard and Bakery in May.
In addition, Borys said a developer who recently purchased the Archer lots has plans to bring four high-quality restaurants to the land on Archer Road between Robert Parker Coffin Road and Old McHenry Road.