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Arlington Heights (IL) Mayor Mulder Promotes Downtown Revival

By Nancy Kluz, Arlington Heights Public Information Officer
June 7, 2004


Turning Arlington Heights- downtown into a vibrant hub that has garnered prestigious planning awards was successful because of an ambitious vision and long-term planning.

What used to be a downtown of vacant storefronts and bland curb appeal has been revitalized into an urban neighborhood of high energy that has the amenities and flair of a city. Arlington Heights, with a population of over 76,000 and located 25 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, was one of the first municipalities in the northwest suburbs to embark on downtown redevelopment.

The revitalization of downtown Arlington Heights has produced prestigious awards for the village, including the 2000 James C. Howland Gold Award sponsored by the National League of Cities, which recognized the village for urban enrichment. The village was also the recipient of the 1999 Daniel Burnham Award, from the Metropolitan Planning Council, for excellence in planning. This award recognized the village for its long-range vision and successful planning and implementation of housing, retail, and transit-oriented projects for the downtown area.

A variety of factors blended together in conjunction with the village's efforts. The demographics, the location, the retail, business, entertainment and dining components, appealing architecture of new and old buildings, accommodations for commuting residents, and the variety of exciting downtown housing options led to the success now being enjoyed.

All components were integral in reviving the retail of the downtown and in extending its life beyond the 9-5 p.m. business day. The vision was to create a downtown that is the heart of the community and hub of activity.

Redevelopment tools were necessary to facilitate this turnaround. It was evident that the village government needed to be involved in spurring revitalization. The creation of two Tax Incrementing Financing Districts (TIF) in the downtown in the 1980s provided the incentive necessary to attract major developments. To be an eligible TIF district, according to state statutes, TIF funds must be the only possible means of developing the area and the municipality must have a redevelopment plan that includes goals and a budget for the proposed area.

With TIF money being used to improve the downtown's infrastructure, and with the village's willingness to create public-private partnerships, developing the downtown became more appealing. Also alluring was the village's long-term vision for its downtown, its appealing demographics, its convenient train transportation to downtown Chicago, as well as ready access to O-Hare airport and major transportation networks.

Limited on remaining open space, Arlington Heights had to "build up" to create new housing and retail/business sites. Some projects started in the early -80s and because of their success, the downtown became a construction zone in the mid -90s when several large'scale, mixed-use projects began changing the skyline.

Successful projects have bred more development. After five mixed-use developments, three public-private parking facilities, one retail center and one residential complex, more proposals are still on the radar screen for downtown Arlington Heights.

"We have several key anchors in the downtown that have created synergy and brought us further development success," said Bill Dixon, village manager. "Those cornerstones are entertainment venues, including a performing arts center, attractive housing and a new train station."

Increasing density was integral to the downtown's redevelopment plans. Building a new downtown "neighborhood" provided a strong base for retail, dining and entertainment venues locating in the downtown.

Within the last five years, more than 400 residential units have been built. The purchase price of newer condo units ranges from $240,000 to $800,000. Many of the units were sold before construction was even completed, which speaks well for the downtown's vibrancy.

The appeal of living downtown was key in making the village more attractive for homebuyers. According to a recent Chicago Sun'times article, several large realty firms sited Arlington Heights as the most popular Chicago suburb searched on the internet for housing opportunities.

"Our redevelopment activity in the downtown includes a successful mix, which makes the entire village of Arlington Heights more appealing to families, young people and empty nesters," said Mayor Arlene J. Mulder. "The redevelopment of the downtown has been great, but just as important is sustaining its vibrancy. Change is inevitable. Progress is optional. We will continue to progress by monitoring what works and what doesn't so we can improve upon the great revitalization we have started."

Plans are under way for two more mixed-use developments, a new downtown park that will provide a focal point for activities, and there are several new restaurants that are finalizing plans to open.

To keep pace with the changes, the village has stepped up efforts to promote the community, and has embraced a marketing plan that features a specially designed logo and slogan of "Arlington Heights — Always More to Discover." The village has broadened its traditional basic service role to include the planning of entertainment and activities, which showcase the community and brings in new visitors to the revitalized downtown.

While Arlington Heights' redevelopment efforts have been applauded, the village has recognized the need to address downtown-related issues such as parking.

Currently, the village is planning to create a broad-based 19-member task force that will work with village staff in updating the downtown master plan, evaluating long-term financing for downtown in light of the upcoming expiration of the TIF Districts, suggesting a retail strategy and exploring additional public improvements in the downtown.

The task force will help fine-tune the vision for downtown Arlington Heights and thereby assist in making the continued redevelopment of downtown even more successful.

For more information, please call Nancy Kluz, Public Information Officer, at 847-368-5104 or send e-mail to nkluz@vah.com.