Village trustee Don Perille first moved to Skokie in 1959. He is the most tenured trustee on the village's board, serving the community for more than 20 years.
In that time, Perille, 84, has said he's seen six different efforts to revitalize downtown Skokie. And while he's stepping down this spring, he - along with five other board members - approved an $8,965,706 bid to renovate and reinvigorate the downtown area. The winning bid went to Woodstock, Ill.-based Alliance Contractors, Inc.
Construction begins this spring.
"This will be the most comprehensive improvement in downtown Skokie ever undertaken," said Village Manager Al Rigoni. "The village received four bids and the amounts were very close."
Among the improvements include pavement resurfacing, water improvements, sidewalk enhancements, traffic and signal networking, pedestrian enhancements, medians and parking improvements, among other things.
There will also be street furniture, way-finding signs and landscaping, although those items are not part of the $8.9 million bid, the board said Monday.
All of this is being paid through downtown Skokie's Tax Increment Financing District, or TIF. The way TIFs operate can be complex, but the gist of it goes like this: The village designates a specific business district, in this case the downtown area. Those businesses then pay their property taxes as usual, but schools and other services receive a lesser portion, with the remaining amount saved for improvements in the TIF district. There's also an expiration date to use the TIF funds, which for downtown Skokie is the end of 2013.
The village set up the downtown Skokie TIF in 1990 because the area "was exhibiting obvious signs of deterioration." In 2005, it was extended to 2013.
Last year, the village spent $129,928 marketing the downtown area. The year before that, $69,613. And in 2010, $102,370, according to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
To the village's credit, there's been tremendous improvement since the TIF district was created.
There's the CTA Oakton Stop, a plethora of ethnic restaurants - including the award-winning Libertad - and boutique businesses, such as Aw Yea Comics. Still, there are many vacant storefronts and the board of trustees is hoping the $8.9 million renovation will bring more business to the downtown area.
When does all of this begin?
According to Rigoni, construction will begin this spring and end in the fall.
"There will be four sequential phases," Rigoni said at Monday's board meeting. "This will reduce business and traffic interruption."
Each section will take approximately two months to complete.
Randy Miles, owner of Village Inn Pizzeria, 8050 Lincoln Ave., is also the president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie, or IMODS. Miles represents a number of downtown business owners and works with the village to improve the area.
For the last two years, Miles has been meeting with village officials for two hours every Tuesday.
"It's been grueling," Miles said with a chuckle. "We paid extreme attention to detail. IMODS worked with the village hand and glove to make this renovation as unobtrusive as possible.
"We're trying to bring downtown up to what a modern downtown should look like," Miles added. "In order to attract people from other areas as well as bring in our own citizens and make them feel comfortable. We want to make it a more pedestrian-friendly area."
Some of those changes Miles refered to include reducing the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph on Oakton Street. Trustee Randy Roberts also said that commercial trucks will eventually no longer travel through downtown Skokie.
"I have a lot of confidence with the village, the businesses and this project," Miles said. "Although the project will be painful, it will be less painful than any other construction project in the village's history."