Short of waving a magical wand to jumpstart the economy, Glen Ellyn's business leaders are putting their faith in the village's strategic plan to strengthen the downtown economy.
Village leaders are looking for ways to spur economic growth in the village's downtown. Some of the ideas put forth in the strategic plan include building a parking garage, opening the portion of Main Street between Crescent and Pennsylvania Avenues to two-way traffic and the creation of a tax increment financing district.
Janie Patch, director of Glen Ellyn Economic Development Corporation, said the strategic plan was created with a "tremendous amount of community input." She said the plan is a consensus document between village leaders and the business community.
Patch said the first step in the plan is to get the village's organizational ducks in a row. Following that, Patch said the next steps would be to conduct a feasibility study on changing the traffic pattern along Main Street.
"You'll have to do that before you can even think about a new parking structure," Patch said.
Georgia Koch, director of Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce, said there's a perception by the merchants and residents that they need a parking garage. She said thriving destination downtowns like Wheaton, Naperville and La Grange have parking garages and people believe that's necessary for Glen Ellyn.
Koch said Glen Ellyn's downtown area has plenty of unique boutique shopping that makes it a destination shopping area.
"As long as we can keep the downtown area attractive, then we'll keep it as a destination that people want to come to and shop," Koch said. "It's an attractive area and we have had a couple stores close, but we've also had several new ones open in this tough economy."
Kooch said during the recent Holiday Walk in downtown she heard plenty of people compliment all that downtown Glen Ellyn had to offer.
Patch said the downtown Glen Ellyn shopping district has a different personality than shopping districts on Roosevelt Road. She said the downtown area has a "lifestyle feel."
"It's very pedestrian friendly. It's an easy to access district where you can get out of your car and enjoy going from store to store without a lot of effort. It's compact, so it's easily walkable," Patch said.
But increasing the numbers of shoppers and businesses means more parking is needed, Koch said.
Patch said addressing that problem will be difficult because it will entail acquisition of properties for a parking area. But not only do you need to find properties for sale, Patch said the village will need to scrape together funding for the project.
"And that brings us right back to the TIF district," Patch said. "If TIF is going to be something in Glen Ellyn's future, we have to determine what the signature site to develop will be. We have to have something occur in order to have some funds to reinvest."
A TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district is one of the most popular economic development tools used by municipalities. Kristin Schrader, assistant to the village manager, said the point of creating a TIF district is to reinvest in an area, attract new businesses and encourage existing businesses to expand. Schrader said the creation of a TIF district does not require the raising of taxes, nor does it tap into the village's general funds. When a TIF district is created, the value of the property in the area is established as the "base" amount. Schrader said the base taxes will continue to go to the local governments, however any taxes generated above that base amount from property tax growth will be reinvested into the district.
Koch said it takes a while to implement a TIF district and the village is slowly moving ahead with the project to see if it's feasible.
Patch said the process is slow, but if it comes to fruition, will be well worth it. She said the Glen Ellyn downtown shopping district coupled with the strategic plan is in a strong position for the new trends in shopping. Patch said people are getting away from wanting to shop in shopping malls and returning to a hometown style of shopping.
"People are looking for that special personality and special service that are carried in the downtown stores," Patch said. "We have to continue to send out our unique personality and lifestyle feel, and why we're different, and why you want to come shopping in downtown Glen Ellyn."