Business Leaders Discuss Ideas
Alderman Would Like To Attract Companies Along Archer Avenue
Posted 6/14/13 by Dermot Connolly, Southwest News-Herald
Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd) brought local business owners, residents and real estate consultants together on Saturday morning to brainstorm and discuss how to attract new and varied businesses to Archer Avenue.
The alderman was joined by Jerry Hurckes, the chief of staff for Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), and about a dozen others at the 9 a.m. meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza, 6221 S. Archer Ave.
He explained that after hearing from residents —several of whom were in attendance — about the need to fill the vacant commercial space on Archer Avenue, he decided to bring in professionals to discuss the matter.
“Our goal is to try to put together a plan to market our area. If we all work together, I believe we can be successful,” said Zalewski.
He noted that he once took business developers on a bus tour around the ward, pointing out the available space, but said more needs to be done.
He added that he had intended to invite developers to a larger community meeting to discuss the issue, but said they are not inclined to attend large gatherings like that because they often become complaint sessions.
“They are not elected officials so they don’t have to put up with that,” he said jokingly.
Tim Angell, commercial services and economic development manager at Chicago Association of Realtors, gave a presentation about what needs to be done to attract businesses. Previous to joining CAR, he had worked with several Chicago area suburbs to bring in businesses.
“The issues of vacant storefronts is not unique to this area,” said Zalewski, pointing out that a few new businesses are going to be opening in the coming months.
He said he is working on getting International Paper Co., now in McCook, to move to Clearing.
“I’m hopeful about that,” he said, noting that 600 people are employed there.
He also informed the group that a Checkers restaurant is going to be opening at Archer and Narragansett, and a Jet-Brite car wash will be moving into the former Arby’s property in the 5300 block of South Harlem Avenue, just north of Archer Avenue.
Hurckes, speaking for Lipinski, agreed the 23rd Ward is not the only place with vacant businesses.
He said Lipinski represents communities “from Bridgeport to Romeoville,” and the same problems are found districtwide.
He praised the efforts to improve Archer Avenue and the area in general, noting, “If you stand still, doing absolutely nothing, you’re moving backwards, and we can’t have that.”
The participants included local real estate broker and Clearing resident Pat O’Brien and Mary Ann Dybala, a real estate broker and president of Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
O’Brien is a board member of the United Business Association of Midway along with local business owner John Kapusciarz, who was also there. His family owns and operates the European Chalet banquet hall.
Others in attendance included Tim Gorzkowski, a Garfield Ridge resident and Chicago police officer, as well as Gale and Richard Vojtas and Elisa Mondia.
Angell advised the group to get to know organizations such as the International Council of Shopping Centers and other industry groups focusing on restaurants and other businesses they want to bring to the ward. “Put them on your radar screens. Be at their meetings,” said Angell, adding that he will share contact information with the group.
He advised them to “diversify,” and not to “put all your eggs in one basket,” such as retail.
The residents agreed during a brainstorming session that while they would prefer to spend money in their own neighborhood, they often must go elsewhere for fine-dining and entertainment, or even to buy clothing.
Some said that while there are a couple of grocery stores in the neighborhood, they go to the suburbs to more upscale stores, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
It was noted that aside from a few fast-food restaurants and diners, Archer Avenue businesses are predominantly law firms, insurance agencies and medical offices.
Dybala pointed out, that at one time, the area boasted of having entertainment spots such as Theater in the Round and the Candlelight Dinner Theater on Harlem, drawing people from throughout the Chicago area, but they are now gone.
Some people in the group said a movie theater is needed in the area, recalling how popular the Brighton Park theater, located a few miles east on Archer, used to be.
“We’re going to make a yeoman’s effort to bring some of these folks here,” said Zalewski, although he said stores and restaurants are more likely than a movie theater.
He said that while all of the area in question is no longer in the 23rd Ward, the aldermen in the 13th, 14th and 22nd wards are all on board.
“Whether you are a ward or a suburb, you are in a competitive environment, competing with all the others. You have got to have the arrows in your quiver, the tools in your toolbox, to differentiate yourself,” said Angell. “Realize you are not Bucktown or Wicker Park.”
And, he said, city wards often have higher taxes than in the suburbs, so developers want to see how they can make up that loss.
Angell distributed documents compiling demographic and psychographic data from local neighborhoods, including Garfield Ridge, Clearing, West Lawn and Archer Heights.
He explained that demographics, including the number, age and average income of residents, will show a developer if a restaurant will do well in a certain area, while “psychographics,” tabulating residents’ interests, will tell them which restaurant will do best.
He said that developers want to see traffic patterns on local streets, showing the volume of traffic at different times of day to determine, among other things, whether a doughnut shop or sit-down restaurant would be more profitable.
As the meeting wrapped up, the group agreed to take Angell’s advice and build on it, and meet regularly to devise a concrete plan to bring to interested developers and business owners.
“I think it was very successful, we’re definitely more educated now,” said Gorzkowski.