'It's a great story': Don Owen, tasked with transforming Navy base to The Glen, retires

  • Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen retired July 24 after 26 years with the village.

    Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen retired July 24 after 26 years with the village. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/28/2021 7:02 PM

Last Friday concluded one of the most impactful careers in recent Glenview history.

July 23 was Deputy Village Manager Don Owen's last day of work. It came on the 26th anniversary of his first day on the job as economic redevelopment director, tasked to transform the former Glenview Naval Air Station -- more than 1,100 acres -- into The Glen.

 

For a full decade Owen dedicated 100% of his time on the job to the huge project, he said, "about a decade of full throttle."

He was supremely suited for it.

A Navy commander with a degree in management and technology, and later a master's in business administration, after more than 1,800 flight hours and 500 aircraft carrier landings, his last assignment at the station was as base transition coordinator.

"Essentially a position created to close the base and transition it from military to civilian use," he said.

He's loathe to take much credit.

"Everybody in the Village of Glenview had a part in the development of this property. It was not Don Owen who did it."

He admitted that the home team -- which included then-Village President Nancy Firfer, Village Manager Paul McCarthy and eventually Mesirow Stein Real Estate and Skidmore Owings & Merrill -- benefited from past exercises in base transition.

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The Glenview job came in the third round of the federal government's Base Realignment and Closure program after the Cold War ended. By then, lessons had been learned.

Still, the team needed to innovate. Able to close the base in two years, about a third of the time elsewhere, they saved the Navy money.

Glenview, whose 1971 annexation of the property allowed it to manage the whole thing, executed a no-cost economic development conveyance to gain the property, and initiated a TIF (tax increment financing) district. Sunsetting in December 2022, that TIF earned Glenview about $560 million in property taxes, Owen said.

In order to keep the cash flowing to affected schools, the park district and library, the village 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 its jurisdictions.

There were plenty of moving parts to this "basectomy," as Owen called it. The principles operated under what he termed the "row boat theory -- if anybody pokes a hole in the rowboat, we're all going to drown," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But unlike other more haphazard base closures -- "kind of a thorn" in their communities, Owen said -- The Glen Redevelopment Project won numerous awards and has been visited by delegates from Canada, Germany, Mexico, Russia and England to see how it was done.

"It's a great story, and I think everyone's so excited that it's worked out so well. It's actually an international model," Owen said.

In 2005 Owen was promoted to director of Capital Projects. Working with people like former Public Works director Bill Porter, Owen aimed to organize and develop standards for the village's capital improvement program.

In 2007 he became deputy village manager, using his business acumen to flow between Glenview's departments to get things done.

"I was in there pulling on major oars in each department. It was a really cool position," Owen said.

Recognized at the Glenview village board meeting on July 20, Owen was highlighted for successfully opposing Amtrak's proposed holding track project in Glenview, generating state and federal grant money and serving as village liaison to the library leading up to a new 85,000-square-foot building in 2010.

"Over the past 26 years, Don Owen has played a major role in making Glenview the great community that it is today," Village Manager Matt Formica stated later in an email. "Through his passion for public service and extraordinary dedication to the community, Don has contributed to making life better for the people of Glenview."

Retiring from village work, Owen looks to do the same for a small, closer group of people.

"My goal is to be the greatest 'Paw Paw' to my five grandchildren as I can be," he said.

With both his children in the metropolitan area, Owen currently has three grandchildren with two others on the way. They're part of the "Three Fs" he'll be concentrating on.

"My plan is to focus on where's the joy for me, and the joy is my faith, my family, my friends, and mixing in some national and international travel," said Owen, who lost his wife, Rachel, to cancer in 2019.

"Some people can make you better, and she made me so much better," he said.

Some people make places better. Owen gave it his all for Glenview.

"I've been so lucky to land in Glenview after my Naval career. It really was amazing," he said.

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