Wheeling wants your input on improving Restaurant Row

As they strive to find ways to enhance Restaurant Row, Wheeling officials are inviting residents, people who work in town and even occasional visitors to a community workshop on the topic.

The open house is set to run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24, at village hall, 2 Community Blvd.

"We want to hear from everyone," Economic Development Director Patrick Ainsworth said. "We think it's a great opportunity. There might be some knowledge, some experience, some ideas ... that can add a ton of value to this study."

Ainsworth and Scott Freres, a principal with an urban planning and architectural firm called the Lakota Group, announced the gathering during Monday's village board meeting.

They also unveiled a website,, designed to inform people about the project. Site visitors are greeted by a brief survey about their Restaurant Row habits.

Wheeling hired the Lakota Group last fall to develop promotional strategies for Restaurant Row, which essentially runs along Milwaukee Avenue between Lake-Cook and Hintz roads.

Maintaining Restaurant Row as a source of community pride was identified as a priority in the strategic plan trustees adopted last year. Restaurants there and across the nation have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, and customers' tastes and budgets have evolved, too.

Of the 265,000 square feet of commercial space along Restaurant Row, about 29,000 square feet - nearly 11% - is vacant, Freres said Monday.

"Things change ... and we need to adapt to it," he said.

The study could result in branding and streetscape improvement plans as well as specific economic development strategies to lure new businesses and customers to the area.

As part of the study, the Lakota Group will determine if a public riverwalk is feasible along the Des Plaines River, which is just east of Milwaukee Avenue. Riverwalks attract visitors to Naperville, St. Charles, Elgin and other suburbs.

Building such an attraction is possible, Freres said, but the cost will be "pretty steep." Money for long-term maintenance and events there would be needed, too.

The Lakota Group's investigation will consist of three phases, Freres said.

The first, which involved engaging the public and learning about the study area, has been completed.

The next phase, in which the consultants will develop what Freres called "cool ideas" for Restaurant Row, will run through April. A second community gathering will be held during this phase.

The third phase will involve defining achievable strategies and developing cost estimates and timelines for them, Freres said.

Freres said restaurateurs along the corridor "are in a survival mode" right now because of the economy. This project, he said, shows "community commitment" to supporting them, and he expects the business owners will be excited to see the solutions his team puts forth.

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