Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk on Thursday delivered his annual State of the City Address to outline the city’s goals, including plans to establish a strategic economic development plan by 2013.
Gresk said the city plans to reduce retail vacancies in Wheaton and increase net property values by 2015, and establish a strategic economic development plan for downtown by January 1, 2013 and a strategic economic development plan for all of Wheaton by July 1, 2013.
In a challenging economy businesses have closed in Wheaton and there is "little growth," Gresk said. However "little" is more than nothing, as major projects on the horizon include the redevelopment of the former school site, a and a luxury apartment complex. He also noted the nine new businesses that opened in Wheaton in 2011, including Dickey’s BBQ, Egg Harbor Express Café, Elements Therepeutic Massage, Evivva Pizzeria, SmashBurger, Skylight Bakery and Café, Two Shopaholics, Wok ‘n Fire, Yoga by Degrees and Yogli Mogli.
Gresk said the city is "pleased" to see the Hubble redevelopment project moving forward in a way that will put the property on the tax rolls and "meet the community needs" for a grocery store downtown.
“We’re looking to maximize taxable property values … reduce (business) vacancies and create an inviting environment for business consistent with the needs and values of the community,” Gresk said.
He said during a Q-and-A session that the Hubble project may have influenced others downtown, including the owners of the former Jewel property at 114 E. Willow Ave. who, in Gresk's opinion, priced the 20,000-square-foot property too high at $4 million and then again at $3.25 million.
When Bradford Equities and the Wheaton Park District "stepped up" to buy Hubble from Community Unit School District 200, the mayor said, “I think that sobered up the people at Jewel, and (they) realized a grocery store wasn’t going there.”
He said a developer is now in the process of completing due diligence before buying the property. “My guess is it’s going for less than $3.25 million.”
Ron Wetzel, a representative from Morningside Equities Group, the development firm planning to build a —told City Council in October the location was attractive because of its proximity to downtown Wheaton, Wheaton College, Metra and the incoming Mariano's Fresh Market where Hubble once was.
Morningside will present its zoning application for a planned unit development (PUD) to the city's planning and zoning board Tuesday, Jan. 24.
"While these are challenging times, the city continues to maintain a stable financial environment … We will continue its mission to provide top quality services for its residents by being fiscally responsible and responsive to the needs of the community."
The city’s other goals include increasing the city’s level of operating reserves, while maintaining a minimum operating cost increase, maintaining reliable infrastructure and operating more efficiently to ensure customer satisfaction.