11 Skokie’s Future
FROM THE SWAMPLAND AND FOREST where settlers carved out a small community about a century and a half ago to the formal incorporation of Niles Centre in 1888 to Skokie’s centennial celebration of 1988, the village has woven an interesting history and staked a proud heritage. Now, as it enters its second century of existence, Skokie faces a variety of new challenges.
Plans are underway to meet many of these challenges in order to enrich the way of life within the village of Skokie. Some of them are of special importance, and overall, they offer a sketchbook illustration of what residents can look forward to in Skokie’s future.
Because there is almost no vacant land to develop within the village, redevelopment is always a high priority. One of the financial tools that Skokie’s government has at its disposal to assist the private sector in redevelopment is called Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The TIF program enables commercial developers to recoup some of their costs more quickly than is ordinarily possible. It is accomplished by offering paybacks of state and local taxes over a limited period of time for certain redevelopment costs.
The TIF program requires public hearings, the passage of specific ordinances, and county and state certification. TIF can only be used in areas that are determined to be blighted or in danger of becoming so. The legal requirements are considerable, but substantial benefits from well-planned TIF programs can be realized in a relatively short period of time.
One neighborhood in Skokie that may benefit from a TIF program is the commercial district in the vicinity of Church Street and East Prairie Road. The area is characterized by a supermarket and other buildings that have been vacant for several years. Village officials are anticipating bids from potential redevelopers of the site in 1989. TIF cannot be used for new construction in a project such as this, but developers can be aided in such project expenses as land acquisition, utility connections, and street and sidewalk repairs.
Another area in the village slated for TIF program assistance is the AT&T/Teletype headquarters at 5555 Touhy Avenue. AT&T is currently in the process of transferring all operations at the site to other company facilities. An 800,000-square-foot shopping center is planned for development in three phases over the next several years. The project is somewhat complicated by the fact that the property straddles the border between Skokie and the village of Niles. Nevertheless, both villages are working in harmony to assist the developer, a partnership of the Trammel Crow Company and the Taxman Corporation. Work on the new shopping center complex is slated to begin in Niles in 1988 and subsequently in Skokie in 1989.
The principal tenants in the new center will be a Jewel Food Store and the Montgomery Ward department store, the latter moving from its longtime location in Old Orchard Shopping Center. According to Skokie Economic Development Coordinator Tom Thompson, “the tenant mix at the new center will be different from Old Orchard, so as not to directly compete with it.”
The Urban Investment and Development Company, managing partner of Old Orchard, also plans some major changes for the venerable shopping center as well. Although plans are still in the initial stages, Skokie Planning Director Bob Molumby suggests that there is anticipation of “significant expansion of retail shopping space, including a movie theater complex.” Bloomingdale’s, New York’s famous department store, will be making its suburban Chicago debut at Old Orchard Shopping Center, soon after the Montgomery Ward lease expires in 1990. These additions together with the new shopping center at Teletype’s former location will significantly increase Skokie’s already substantial retail base.
In recent years, Skokie has also become home to numerous corporate headquarters and office complexes. Since the creation of the O-R (Office Research) Zoning District in 1970, many industrial and commercial companies have established residency within the district. The O-R is bounded by Skokie’s corporate village limits to the north and west, Golf Road to the south, and Edens Expressway to the east.
Today, only four parcels of land remain vacant in the O-R District. Several companies have expressed interest in the remaining sites. Among them is the Marriott Corporation, which is considering building a hotel there.
With the growth and complexity of suburban life in the 1980s, municipal governments confront many situations that not only affect their individual interests, but those of the entire metropolitan area. According to village Trustee George Van Dusen, Skokie’s representative to the Northwest Municipal Conference, “the village is consistently working with other communities to solve regional problems.”
Historically, communities in Illinois and other states have attacked specific problems by setting up new agencies of local government. In recent years, however, that trend has subsided mostly because of the creation of the Northwest Municipal Conference, a consortium of mayors from 31 communities and five Northwest suburban townships. Skokie has been involved in the group’s activities since the conferences inception. According to Conference Director Bill Grams, the purpose of the organization is “to promote regional self-sufficiency by solving regional problems through the existing powers and authority of its members.”
The current benefits derived from the Northwest Municipal conference are many. By pooling resources, the 36 governmental units can plan inter-community road construction, lobby more effectively for federal and state highway funds, and even purchase office and operating supplies and services more economically.
In the immediate future, the Conference plans to develop a sophisticated landfill, called a “bale fill,” at a site south of Elgin in unincorporated Cook County. Solid waste materials would be processed into compact bales, which are easier and less expensive to dispose of than unprocessed waste. The Conference has also established a federally-funded research and information library in Mount Prospect. Such information is developed and maintained at the library to aid all member communities to successfully cope with changes that will inevitably come to the area.
One of the most innovative proposals put forth by Skokie officials in recent years is a direct result of the Deep Tunnel project. Beset by controversy from its beginning, the Deep Tunnel is finally providing benefits to a number of Chicago area communities, including Skokie. The Metropolitan Sanitary District North Shore Channel on the village’s eastern border was once little more than an open sewer. The canal, however, has been cleaned up remarkably by the Deep Tunnel’s water management capacity—to the extent that fish now thrive in it. The Deep Tunnel project works in conjunction with the village’s ongoing flood control program.
Plans are presently in the works to create a promenade of extensive landscaping improvements and possible commercial development along the banks. The successful riverfront developments of other cities, most notably the San Antonio, Texas, River Walk, serve as models for enhancing this area in Skokie. Three sections of the canal banks have already been landscaped, and include bicycle and jogging paths. A fourth between Main and Dempster Streets, is scheduled for improvements in the near future. The result will be an aesthetic contribution to the entire metropolitan area.
Still in an early stage of development is an in-depth evaluation of Skokie’s downtown business district, centered around the intersection of Oakton and Lincoln. A historical site and a onetime fashion center for much of the North Shore, it is a viable area for revitalization. At the time of Skokie’s centennial celebration in 1988, preliminary staff meetings were already being held in Village Hall to determine what kinds of changes or additions would best serve the community.
These are just a few of the plans and programs that Skokie will launch as the village moves into its second century. All such efforts are sure to be guided by the same spirit and sense of cooperation that, over the past 100 years, has moved Skokie from a rural settlement to a vital community headed toward the 21st century.