Getting three separate property owners, who are naturally motivated by their individual successes, to think in a way that could benefit not only themselves but a municipality is some trick.
But that’s what the village of Riverside is attempting to do right now with a stretch (well, stretch is kind of a reach, but it is Riverside, after all) of commercial properties that line Harlem Avenue from 26th Street to Longcommon Road.
As the Costco development on the North Riverside side of 26th Street continues apace, it’s becoming clear there’s some hay to be made in the immediate neighborhood.
And for Riverside, that area comprises three contiguous parcels from the Canadian National Railroad tracks south to Longcommon Road. Compared to what North Riverside has to offer about a block north, it’s positively puny.
Frankly, Riverside probably would have better luck with the two parcels north of the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, those two parcels are occupied by what appears to be a very successful gas station/convenience store business (though that could be affected somewhat by the presence of a discount Costco gas station across the street) and a condo building, whose presence immediately next to the tracks has always been somewhat baffling.
So Riverside is stuck with the three parcels occupied by a struggling strip mall, a struggling dry cleaners and a for-now vacant retail store, which is soon to house a title loan company.
The village board has proposed a moratorium on approving business licenses or zoning approvals for any non-sales tax-generating businesses along that stretch, so the Plan Commission can amend the zoning to create a retail overlay district there.
Such a district would dictate the types of uses in the area, pushing retail uses at the expense of service businesses.
Whether this will have the desired effect is anyone’s guess. Riverside got close to snagging Starbucks back in 2007 before the real estate crash, but that deal fizzled and Starbucks recently took a pass on having another go in Riverside. A franchise restaurant, Potbelly’s, also reportedly has said no thanks.
It’s encouraging that the present village board and administration has shown a willingness to join the 21st century with respect to economic development in Riverside. And this idea of re-zoning or creating a retail overlay district for that stretch of Harlem Avenue is an intriguing one.
Can the village pull off a large deal involving multiple property owners and a national chain, which would serve as an anchor? We have no idea. It’s certainly never been done before in Riverside.
One thing we do know is that anyone expecting short-term results is likely to be disappointed. If Riverside really wants to do this, village government will have to stay actively involved in working with property owners who we’re guessing would be just as happy to sell and cut their losses.
Maybe that’s where Riverside can really become a player. If you own the properties, you control their destiny. But we also have seen where village property acquisition has gotten elected officials in the past — thrown out of office.