South suburbs turning focus inward

2013-11-03T00:00:00Z South suburbs turning focus inwardGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Homewood officials have a vision of including an outdoor plaza in their downtown business district — providing a place where people can sit on a park bench and take in the ambiance of their community on a nice, sunny day.

Last month the Village Board hired a firm, The Lakota Group, which will study the Homewood district that centers on Ridge Road and Dixie Highway to determine the best spot for a plaza.

Homewood is not alone in placing significance on its business district. Lansing, which in recent years developed a similar plaza with a clock tower in the area around Ridge Road where it intersects with Grant and Henry streets, is helping businesses improve facades, while also updating lighting and public landscaping along Ridge Road.

“We want to keep our downtown looking fresh, current and attractive,” said Lansing Planning and Development Director Kristi DeLaurentiis.

In Homewood, Village Manager Jim Marino said trustees have discussed a plaza near Ridge Road and Martin Street — an area one block west of the Ridge/Dixie intersection, one block east of the Metra commuter station and one block south of the Village Hall at 2020 Chestnut Road.

But that location is not definite.

“The purpose of this study is for them to advise us where the best place for a plaza would be,” Marino said.

The Lakota Group will be paid up to $15,750 for their study. Marino said village officials have discussed building a waterfall, although a plaza could also include planting assorted trees and installing benches for public use.

“It might be nice to have a bench where you can sit down and enjoy the scenery,” Marino said. The study is to be complete by February, and the Village Board will decide early next year whether to proceed.

“This will have to come back to the Village Board for a final decision,” Marino said, adding that if it goes forward, “This is something we would do in 2014.” The project has a rough budget of $500,000, from tax increment finance district funds.

Putting in a waterfall would be similar to what Dolton officials did in recent years, erecting the structure in 2000 along Lincoln and Park avenues, across the street from the Village Hall at 14014 Park Ave., and about two blocks northeast of that suburb’s downtown district at Chicago Avenue and 142nd Street.

Dolton’s transitional village manager, Clem Balanoff, said municipal officials are working with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Flossmoor, and state Reps. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, and Will Davis, D-Homewood, to get federal and state grants to improve the area’s infrastructure.

“If we can make those improvements, then perhaps we can make it a more attractive area that could draw businesses to the village,” Balanoff said.

Lansing officials built their own plaza in July 2008 when they erected the clock tower, and later added a monument to firefighters.

But DeLaurentiis said the village has several measures meant to improve Ridge Road from Burnham Avenue east to State Line Road. Those include a Façade Improvement Program, which provides business owners with grants to fix up their storefronts.

But village officials also have been replacing worn park benches along Ridge Road, while also increasing the number of overall benches. They’re also looking into expanding the types of flowers that can be planted in municipal flower bins along the road so there can be colorful plants in place during the fall and winter months.

During the upcoming winter holidays, those flower bins may also contain holiday-themed decorations to add to the ambiance, DeLaurentiis said.

“We want to improve our appearance to show people we care about our community,” she said. “It also helps encourage our businesses to take better care of their own property.”

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