Juracek's big-picture thinking brought Mount Prospect to new level
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be mayor of Mount Prospect.
But it may have helped Arlene Juracek, who brought big-picture thinking to her two terms as mayor.
Juracek, who has a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, was elected mayor in 2013.
Since that time, she has helped engineer major changes in the village, including the long-awaited redevelopment of the downtown.
Juracek, who was raised in Niles, moved to the village with her husband Ed, whom she met while both were working at ComEd, in 1977.
Juracek's career at ComEd brought her to the position of vice president of energy acquisition for its parent company, Exelon.
She became involved in the village at the suggestion of Irvana Wilks, then a trustee and later mayor. Then in 1993, Mayor Gerald "Skip" Farley appointed her to the Transportation Safety Commission.
Juracek briefly had a taste of trustee duties when she served out the remainder of Trustee Michaele Skowron's term in 1996 and 1997 after she stepped down.
Juracek then served on the planning and zoning commission before being elected as trustee in 2007.
As she hands over the reins to Mayor-elect Paul Hoefert on Tuesday, she can look back on a legacy of significant change, including mixed-use downtown development spurred by tax increment financing and the hiring of a dynamic village manager in Michael Cassady.
"I think what I wanted to accomplish was getting us off the inertia of development, and we are off that inertia," she said.
The key was strategic planning and the creation of the Prospect and Main TIF.
"Our downtown had been neglected for so long," she said, plagued by absentee landlords and deteriorating buildings that were not attracting business. "So the only way we could get things off the dime though was to put the TIF in place."
She said it was important to understand the demographics and the socioeconomic status of the village. The village drew upon studies from such agencies as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which identified unmet needs in the downtown, including the need for rental units and an upper-income demographic that would attract the disposable income needed to draw a grocery store downtown.
Sure enough, with the addition of luxury apartments, Caputo's is opening a grocery store in the Maple Street Lofts.
Another key catalyst was village manager Cassady.
"We were kind of at a stagnation point of letting opportunities fall in our lap, rather than aggressively managing those opportunities, and we needed a village manager who would be able to target the development community and really make sure we didn't lose opportunities."
Other accomplishments during Juracek's term included the centennial celebration in 2017, the opening of the Edwin and Elsie (Meyn) Busse Pocket Park, and significant flood control projects at Burning Bush Trails and Aspen Trails Park.
During her tenure, the village successfully navigated COVID-19, despite dire financial projections.
"I think we understood the downside risk," she said, crediting the financial management skills of Finance Director Amit Thakkar, who developed a response plan that included postponing capital investment and suspending computer and vehicle lease payments.
Beset by a controversy related to the police patch, Juracek and the board also held a community conversation about race and moved ahead with community engagement and diversity initiatives.
The issue of diversity is important to Juracek. She noted that she worked in a culture at ComEd that fostered diversity.
"I have a letter that a resident wrote me, and it kind of makes me tear up, because she said I'm amazed at how comfortable you are, Arlene, talking about issues of race."
The village still has unfinished business, she said, citing as an example vacancies at Randhurst.
"I think their owners up there understand what needs to be done," she said, adding that the village needs to make sure the owners, who are in New Jersey, "understand the importance of Randhurst to the village."
Over the years, Juracek has played key roles in regional groups such as the Northwest Municipal Conference and the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission.
She said she looks forward to spending time in her garden at home and at her tree farm in northwest Illinois, scrapbooking, and enjoying time with a new grandchild.
"I'm taking a gap year to kind of focus on myself and my family, not actively looking for any opportunities. My guess is even though I am of an age where I'm well beyond normal retirement age, but I still have the energy -- I'm sure some opportunities will come my way. I have no clue what those opportunities will be."