Riverside’s small commercial strip that runs from 26th Street to the gas station on the south side of Longcommon Road is not exactly what developers would call a blockbuster location. The lots are shallow and, for the most part, the buildings are old and obsolete.
While the 7-Eleven on the corner of Harlem Avenue and 26th Street is typically bustling, the rest of that stretch is pretty forlorn.
The former Sara Lee outlet store was apparently such a poor location that a title loan company simply packed up and moved out without warning and with more than two years left on its lease.
The dry cleaners, with its 1960s-era glass shell of a building is now vacant, and the adjacent strip mall is as depressing a commercial property as you’re likely to see.
And the south side of Longcommon and Harlem, the property that now houses a small gas station has its own limitations as a commercial property, two of the most prominent being its size and shape.
In order to attract attention from developers, the village is now pondering the creation of an official “business district” in that area — a kind of cut-rate TIF (it’s not a TIF, though it has aspects that remind you of one) where the village must impose a sales tax to create a revenue stream to help fund redevelopment efforts within the district.
Now, taking a look at what actually exists in that two-block stretch — essentially two gas stations and a Chinese restaurant — you wonder just how much revenue for redevelopment you could squeeze from a 1-percent sales tax.
But perhaps the goal isn’t the revenue but rather the ability to get movement on assembling property, namely the three parcels between Longcommon Road and the Canadian National Railroad tracks, for a decent commercial development.
It’s not like the area is repellent to developers. Starbucks, of all places, very seriously wanted to build a location at 2704 Harlem Ave. (the former Sara Lee building) and only bailed due to the real estate crash in 2008.
The Costco development just north of 26th Street is the real draw for developers. Just across Harlem Avenue at 26th Street, a real estate investment company headed by Dick Portillo, formerly of the fast-food chain, purchased the former Berwyn Life offices (it’s now a medical center).
The medical center has several years left on its lease, but that roughly 1-acre parcel would easily attracted redevelopment. So, investors are looking at that stretch of Harlem.
We’re not sure if the business district idea is going to make much of a difference in Riverside, but you could argue that it may be worth $10,000 to $15,000 to find out. The one thing we do know is that the area on Harlem between the CN tracks is a dog and is likely to remain one unless the village intervenes to help gain the attention of a developer who might be able to bring it back to life.