Economic development – specifically what to do with the Purple Hotel and how to proceed with TIF districts – was the centerpiece issue of the Lincolnwood trustee debate Thursday night.
The unusually high number of nine candidates - who are battling for three open seats - for Lincolnwood trustee clashed sporadically at a community sponsored debate by Skokie Patch. All candidates want to see economic development, but how to achieve it was the question.
In the approximate 100 minute debate moderated by Skokie Patch editor George Slefo, the question of how to proceed with the Purple Hotel at Touhy and Lincoln avenues drew mixed viewpoints. The hotel, which was once a destination location throughout the Chicagoland area for decades, fell into disrepair in recent years. The village was even close to demolishing the property at one point.
However, local developer Jake Weiss won the property in an auction last year in hopes of restoring it to its former glory, but has yet to name a hotel that would serve as a base. Weiss has pumped a lot of money into the project that still has an uncertain future.
Incumbent trustee Larry Elster believes Weiss deserves more time to get the project rolling.
“He’s the only developer that has stepped up to the plate at this point with this property," he said. "I’m in favor of working with him over the next few months to see if he can get a (flagship) hotel.”
Local businessman Craig Klatzco also favors giving Weiss more time but used his thoughts on the Purple Hotel to speak out on what he considers a less than favorable business district. He believed village officials have been less than cooperative with the development team.
“I certainly didn’t get the impression that our trustees were friendly to his attorney or to Mr. Weiss,” Klatzco said. “We should be his partner in helping him develop something that is going to be great for Lincolnwood."
However, local construction company executive Jennifer Spino believed it was time to start over and raze the structure which could cost over seven figures.
“I don’t see any flagship hotels knocking down anybody’s doors trying to get in,” Spino said. “It would seem to me taking the building down and having an open area for a developer to come in and do what they need seems more productive.”
The fate of the Purple Hotel was a small part of the overall discussion of economic development in the village which featured all nine candidates for trustee. Elster and fellow incumbent John Swanson along with Demerise “Reese” Gratch represented the Independent Party of Lincolnwood, Spino, Mira Mazur and Martin Youkhanna are running under the Forward Vision Party while Klatzco, Ron Cope and Jean Ikezoe-Halevi are running independent campaigns in hopes of getting elected come April 9.
Much of the evening was centered on tax increment financing (TIF) districts including the three that are currently in place in the village. There's also one that's being considered near the intersection of Lincoln and Devon avenues.
“I haven’t seen any good out of them the last seven or eight years,” Youkhanna said.
Swanson went the other way stating TIFs have been beneficial. “We are looking at all options to increase business and opportunity for growth for us, not as opportunities to tax,” he said.
Meanwhile Gratch took more of a cautious approach regarding the proposed TIF.
“I think there is a chance here to see if this area continues to grow on its own with small improvements to the overall economy,” she said.
The other main subject on the plate for the candidates was the situation with Shore Galleries, the Lincolnwood gun shop where a lawsuit has recently been filed against the village and its Zoning Board because the owner was not allowed to have an indoor shooting range. The village planning commission had signed off on the shooting range last year, but it was subsequently rejected by the village board 4-1. The matter then went before the zoning board which eventually said no to the proposal believing the gun range was not appropriate in that area.
There was some reluctance to discuss the situation given the pending litigation, but Cope said in general that all those involved deserve a shot to make their case.
“If I was sitting on the village board, I would expect Mr. Shore or any objector to Mr. Shore to get a fair hearing and I would do my best to decide on that case based on the evidence that was presented.”
Lincolnwood voters will not only be selecting trustee candidates, but there is a hotly contested three way race for village president between incumbent Gerald Turry, former village president Peter Moy and former clerk Georgia Talaganis. Skokie Patch will be moderating that debate on March 26, at 7 p.m.
Check Skokie Patch on Monday morning for more coverage regarding Thursday's trustee debate.