The Glen: A 1,121-acre success story
Don Owen, Glenview's deputy village manager, was buzzing around The Glen since before it was The Glen.
A Naval flight officer at the former Glenview Naval Air Station, his last assignment there was as base transition coordinator, charged to close the base and transition it to civilian from military use.
A benefit of America winning the Cold War with the Soviets, Owen said, was that after 58 years of operation the Glenview site was in the third round of closings in 1993 that came out of the United States Congress' BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) plan to close military bases, hundreds of them.
What to do with 1,121 acres?
Jumping years into the future, the Glen Redevelopment Project earned two awards from the National Association of Installation Developers, one in 2000 for Facility of the Year. In 2005 the Urban Land Institute gave it an award, as did the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2002.
Either the massive project or its advisers, developers or components won honors by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois, the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and the Illinois Engineering Council.
"Substantially completed" by 2007, Owen said, the once tree-barren site provides housing to about 5,500 people and 4,000 jobs. The mixed-use development, spanning 15% of Glenview's land mass, delivers several categories of residential space, retail, office and light industrial uses, public service and safety components, and more room devoted to sports, leisure and open space, 403 acres, than to any other use.
Owen said officials from Canada, Germany, Mexico and Russia have visited The Glen for tips.
"It became an international model as far as how to close bases and redevelop them," he said.
"It really was a true success story for the country to have."
A project of this magnitude could have gone south. A bunch of things had to come together to pull off a successful transition.
"Sometimes," Owen said, jokingly, "it's better to be lucky than smart."
To the contrary, the brains behind the operation maneuvered things smartly into place -- including former Village President Nancy Firfer, then-Village Manager Paul McCarthy, a powerful team of expert consultants including Mesirow Stein Real Estate as development adviser and Skidmore Owings & Merrill as master planner, and key staff including Owen, hired in 1995 as economic redevelopment coordinator.
By late 1993 Owen said a group had already assembled to consider options for the huge property, which wisely had been annexed by the village in 1971 and had been incorporated in Glenview. That simplified the decision-making process and eased the village's role as master developer.
Due to the redevelopment's cost exceeding the land's resale value, according to an article from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office, and Owen negotiating an economic development conveyance, all of the land but for an existing golf course was transferred to the village at no cost.
Gathering Glenview's various agencies together -- schools, park district, library, etc. -- over "literally hundreds of meetings" during the process, Owen said, they first contemplated what to put there. Goals included stewardship of the land, fiscal responsibility, community use, creation of housing stock and optimizing economic opportunity, Owen recalled.
Federal prisons were among the uses considered for shuttered military bases, but that option was quickly dismissed in Glenview. With O'Hare and the Chicago Executive Airport (formerly Palwaukee) nearby, keeping the base an airport was redundant. Sports facilities -- like a Bears training camp -- were discussed and discarded.
When the base closed, job creation was a national agenda, Owen said. Combine that with Glenview being primarily a residential community, and a mixed-use plan got the nod.
As of October 2017, there were more than 1 million square feet devoted to retail or commercial use, another million for the Prairie Glen Corporate Campus, plus the 142-acre Gallery Park and 180-acre Glen Club golf course.
There were 696 single-family homes, 676 senior housing units, 938 multifamily housing units, a new Metra station, Police Department headquarters, Fire Station No. 14, the Attea Middle School, a post office and a new Park District Community Center, among other components.
Of the 300 acres of runways, six airplane hangars and some 100 buildings, little remains. The 1929 Curtiss-Reynolds Hangar One, on the National Register of Historic Places, was repurposed for use in The Glen Town Center. An Army hangar was converted to the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy on Patriot Boulevard. A former Navy chapel is now the Park District's Richard A. Schram Memorial Museum in Chapel Crossing at The Glen.
"Very few things were saved," Owen said. "We used to joke around and say we performed a 'basectomy.'"
When a project's total cost exceeds $800 million, humor comes at a premium. As does a TIF.
Owen notes that tax-increment financing is a three-letter acronym but often a four-letter word to school districts. That's because for up to 23 years a development can receive property taxes for its costs, rather than those taxes going to schools and other jurisdictions such as parks and libraries.
The village wasn't keen on that. It worked to draft and pass Illinois' Economic Development Project Area Tax Increment Allocation Act of 1995. It granted military bases in Illinois over 500 acres to automatically qualify for a TIF while also allowing "make-whole" payments to jurisdictions, such as Glenview school districts 30, 34 and 225.
Of the overall estimated $529 million in property taxes collected by the TIF, $300 million will have been distributed to core jurisdictions during the development to help cover the new costs of serving The Glen. Once the TIF sunsets in 2022, The Glen will contribute an annual $33 million to the normal property tax rolls.
Based on private-sector investments, the beneficial legislation and eventual sales of amenities -- the property was also developed in five phases, south to north, to weather economic fluctuation -- the project has basically paid for itself.
"TIF went back to a three-letter word," Owen said.
The Glen started marketing properties in 1998 and sold its first in 1999, in Kimball Hill Homes' Chapel Crossing at The Glen.
Since then pristine prairie mingles happily with the Kohl Children's Museum, the Willow Creek Church, the fireworks at Gallery Park and a community Owen believes is very satisfied.
"Ultimately, I think they've embraced the result," he said.
"It's an international model, certainly a national model, and anybody in the base closure business knows about Glenview."