Wheeling officials finalizing new strategy, exploring riverwalk concept, for Restaurant Row
Wheeling officials are finalizing a new strategic plan that focuses on Restaurant Row, the Dundee Road commercial corridor and the village's financial strength.
Village Manager Jon Sfondilis and other officials unveiled and discussed a draft of the proposal during last week's village board meeting. The board could approve the final version of the proposal when it next meets March 15.
Wheeling's current strategic plan was adopted in 2015. Efforts to update the plan began early last year.
The mission of the plan is to look into the future and identify trends and issues that'll need to be faced and set goals for village hall, Sfondilis told the board. Once those goals are set, he said, officials determine how to accomplish them.
Restaurant Row, which runs along Milwaukee Avenue between Hintz and Lake-Cook roads and has been a financial engine in town since the 1970s, was a key subject of Sfondilis' presentation. Officials must maintain the strip as a source of community pride in a marketplace with evolving trends, he said.
"Dining has changed as an industry," Sfondilis said. "It isn't what it was back then because it can't be what it was back then."
To keep Restaurant Row a shining beacon for the town, the plan says officials need to recruit new eateries using financial incentives and develop efforts that support Restaurant Row as a distinct place, among other steps.
Determining the feasibility of a public riverwalk along the Des Plaines River, which is behind the businesses on the east side of Milwaukee Avenue, is an important step, too, Sfondilis said. A study exploring such a project is in progress, he said.
Promoting the economic prosperity and vitality of the Dundee Road corridor is another critical focal point in the plan.
Sfondilis touted the redevelopment of the four corners at Milwaukee Avenue, the facilities at the municipal complex and what's become the Wheeling Town Center residential, dining and entertainment complex.
Additional redevelopment opportunities exist along the corridor, the plan states, especially west of the Canadian National Railway tracks there.
Officials should consider offering new financial incentives to attract redevelopment and support existing businesses, the plan states. Additionally, the plan recommends officials seek businesses that reflect Wheeling's cultural diversity.
As for Wheeling's finances, the plan stresses the need to prioritize projects and policies that provide revenue aside from property taxes.
That means responding to market opportunities like the growth of the recreational cannabis industry, Sfondilis said. A company already is preparing to open Wheeling's first cannabis dispensary, in a former restaurant building at 1500 E. Lake-Cook Road, this year.
Recruiting industrial businesses that also general sales tax also should be a priority, the plan states. Trustee Ray Lang wondered if local factories are allowed to open outlet stores to sell their products, saying that seems to be a "huge gain" for communities with such businesses. Sfondilis suggested a review of village codes as a first step.