As Riverside officials and residents enjoyed the pizza, empanadas and ginger ale at the Sept. 18 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the green parking lot at 61-63 E. Burlington St., you’d almost forget that this lot wasn’t supposed to happen.
In fact, back in 2008 and 2009, the village’s purchase of that property was held up as Exhibit A of municipal folly. Back in 2007 – at the top of the doomed real estate market, as it turned out – the village spent $555,000 to buy the two parcels of land, which are immediately adjacent to the central business district.
While the use for that property was never cast in stone, it was eyed as a prime location for parking. One of the reasons for creating the parking was a complaint that the construction of the Village Center condo building came without the necessary number of parking spaces. The parking lot would be a move toward addressing that decision.
In 2009, the village board’s majority was dead set against the parking lot, with the possible caveat that in the future if the need for additional parking proved to be too great to ignore, there might be room for a parking lot on the edge of the business district.
Numbers were trotted out. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars per space and only create two dozen spaces at most. Other parking areas were rejiggered, and fruitless attempts were made to strike a deal with the Masonic lodge to share their lot on the west end of the business district.
Then in 2011, a grant from the IEPA cast its magic spell, and Exhibit A of government waste was transformed into Exhibit A of government’s leadership to promote sustainable infrastructure.
Not that anyone’s complaining much. The village, indeed, got a really nice looking parking lot almost for free (they did have to buy more land from the railroad and chip in even more than that to buy some lights for the lot), the business community got the parking lot it had been demanding for the past three years and officials – even one who opposed the idea of a parking lot back in 2009 when he was running for election and decried the purchase of the properties as part of a former village board’s “runaway spending” – got a chance to cut a ribbon with some big scissors.
But swallowing some pride and coming around on the idea of a parking lot at 61-63 E. Burlington St. was the right thing to do. That takes courage. What village officials need to do now is focus on the other aspect of the equation – economic development – and screw up the courage it’s going to take to make a difference there.
For the past three-plus years, that end of the stick has been left dangling. If the current CMAP planning process will assist in this, that’s great. But, as always, political will is what’s needed to make a real difference.