Editor's note: This is the second part of our story as we look at the changes ahead for Skokie in 2012. If you missed the first one, 'Will Mayor Van Dusen Run Again in 2012?' click here.
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen told Skokie Patch recently that he is "leaning toward running" again in 2013.
The mayor may return as the village has a lot on its plate in the coming years. With a new train station opening soon, the face of Downtown Skokie may change into the bustling shopping district that the village has always envisioned. The new stop at Oakton Street and Skokie Boulevard will be the first Yellow Line addition since opening in1964.
Village Manager Al Rigoni said the project has moved a little faster than expected due to the unseasonably mild winter, but still could not pinpoint an exact date for the opening as there is still some being work being completed. The village has said in the past that it expects the new station to open sometime in March.
But Rigoni believes it won’t be long now until the turnstiles are opened on the $22 million project, $16 million of which came through a federal government grant. The rest of the money came from the village, he said.
The village hopes the new stop will create additional pedestrian traffic not just for the expanding Illinois Science and Technology Park, but for all of Oakton Street. In 2011, the village board shot down a proposal to create a “road diet” on Oakton, even though the village still has TIF funds that will expire at the end of 2013 to do some work.
Late last year, the village entered into an agreement with the design firm Gewalt-Hamilton to enhance the area and getting that design ready for construction will be a primary task for 2012.
“We will continue with improvements in the downtown,” said Mayor George Van Dusen. “We will begin at the least the design phase of doing the streetscaping of Oakton Street.”
As part of the project, Rigoni said the village will soon start to move to try and get control over Oakton Street from Cook County within the next few weeks. Village officials believe a “jurisdictional transfer” will make the necessary changes for Oakton Street and day-to-day maintenance a lot easier. But such a move will require the cooperation from the county and it is not clear if and when county commissioners will sign off on that.
In addition, the village will soon start looking into weight limits for trucks and a possible reduction in the speed limit as part of the overall design scheme for Oakton Street, Rigoni said.
One amenity of the work being done on Oakton now is a bike trail that may be open around early July near the Technology Park, according to Rigoni.
“This will be an exciting new recreational as well as practical for people who walk,” he said. “I think it will be a nice amenity for the people at the technology campus to take a walk during the nice weather.”
Just south of Oakton, the village is hoping the recently shuttered Skokie Theatre will not be closed for a long time.
“There are a couple of potential users who are interested in the theatre and have made substantial inquiries into purchasing the theatre,” Van Dusen said. “It is currently owned by the bank but there are a couple of users who are interested in purchasing the theater and using it for their own.”
Moving north to Dempster, where the village possesses much of the property near the Skokie Swift station, there is hope that developers will come in this year and try to convert the land into new business.
“I am very optimistic that we will have some good announcements come this year on one or more properties that the village controls on Dempster Street,” Rigoni said.
The anticipated opening of a new Oberweis Dairy at the intersection of Dempster Street and Skokie Boulevard will inject some excitement onto the stretch of road where an estimated 30,000 cars pass through daily. This area was tattooed by many empty storefronts at the height of the recession.
“That is a significant development,” Rigoni said. “Oberweis has a very successful history. They are strong financially. Secondly, Skokie will be the first to get their expanded facility and that is exciting.”
Oberweis plans to offer an enlarged menu besides ice cream and dairy products at this location. This will be their first store where they will try this concept.
Rigoni said the new Oberweis restaurant should open as summer draws near, when people are looking for a cool way to beat the heat. What residents in the village and the rest of the Midwest have not had to cope with this winter is snow and ice, which has led to some savings for the village both now and in the future.
“We’re ahead because there is a lot less manpower costs when you don’t have snow because you don’t have overtime,” Rigoni said while adding the salt that was purchased for this year can be stored for next year so there could be additional savings over the summer.
However, the volatile nature of Chicago weather has led to expenditures at other times.
“These things tend to even out,” Rigoni said. "While we are saving money on overtime this winter due to the snow, people forget we had the windstorms this summer that knocked down a whole bunch of trees and had some excess overtime moving trees from parkways that were blocking streets.”
As for the home foreclosure situation, which has been a big problem in Skokie, as well as the rest of the country, Rigoni said the rate is remaining steady. But he believes the village is doing what it can so that the problem does not spider web throughout the rest of the community.
“I don’t think they are having a deleterious impact on the neighborhoods,” he said. “We are very aggressively contacting the bank or the receiver when there are any maintenance issues concerning any property that is vacant.”