Downtown development success lies in local support
By Ed McMenamin ~ Suburban Life Publications
Posted Feb 03, 2012 @ 10:48 AM
Elmhurst, IL — When Classic Cinemas bought the York Theatre in the mid ‘80s, it was suffering from “deferred maintenance,” to put it kindly, Classic Cinemas President Willis Johnson said.
Much of downtown Elmhurst looked the same, or worse — vacant storefronts, low foot traffic and a lack of downtown residences.
“A lot of downtowns were struggling at that time,” Johnson said. “Some of the stores had gone to outlying shopping centers that were being built.”
In response to downtown’s decline, the city formed a commission for downtown redevelopment, which was followed by a redevelopment plan, and then the formation of the downtown tax increment financing district in 1986, former city manager Tom Borchert said.
Along with the TIF, former and current city officials and business leaders also point to two other steps that led to downtown’s resurgence — the renovation of the York Theatre and the creation of the City Centre.
Two towns to the west, Lombard has taken some of the same steps — it created a downtown TIF in 1988 — but a full bounty of mixed-use developments, shopping and eateries have not yet materialized. For nearly every attractive coffee shop or restaurant, there’s a vacancy. Lombard officials hoped a redevelopment study finalized last March would bring downtown to life, though 11 months after its presentation, little has been done.
Flipping through then-and-now pictures that compare downtown Lombard of 2012 to what it was 20 years before, the changes are significant. There are new businesses, new buildings and new looks to old buildings, but vacancies still slow revitalization.
Theresa Brzezinski, general manager at Shannon’s Corner Butcher Shoppe, grew up in Lombard and remembers riding her bike to the downtown district as kid. It was always a destination for her and her friends, but was still a quiet place.
“Lombard’s always been a place for people to come,” she said, “but we’ve always wanted to have more.”
Unlike Elmhurst, Lombard lost its historic downtown theater, and along with it one of the best ways to make downtown a destination.
Elmhurst’s York Theatre was on the verge of the same fate before major renovative work.
In 1991, the city loaned Classic Cinemas $400,000 for a $1.1 million renovation project that expanded the historic theater from one screen to three, and created what would become one of downtown Elmhurst’s biggest pulls. The theater repaid the loan, and has expanded several times since. It’s now a 10-screen theater that combines modern movie technology with historic touches, like the restored art deco facade.
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