With the village experiencing the exodus of several high-profile big-box retailers from prominent commercial locations in the past couple of years, the North Riverside Village Board on Feb. 18 voted unanimously to hire a retired municipal planning veteran to analyze the challenges the village faces and recommend possible actions for the future.

The man tapped to prepare the report is Robert Kallien, who has nearly 40 years of municipal planning experience, including 18 years as development services director in Oak Brook. He retired from that position in 2017.

For the 12 years prior to his time in Oak Brook, Kallien worked as the community development director for Naperville.

“I have experience dealing with communities with significant retail, just like North Riverside,” Kallien told the Landmark in a phone interview last week.

The purpose of his commercial area analysis for North Riverside will be to create benchmarks – where the village is today and how the village might address the changing face of big-box retailing in the future.

It’s the kind of study that one might find as part of a broader comprehensive plan, said Kallien.

“It’s a sub-area plan for the community,” he said.

Kallien said it will take him about 10 weeks to deliver the commercial area study to the village board. The village board has approved spending $11,400 for the work.

According to Kallien, North Riverside is “very, very fortunate” to have the North Riverside Park Mall as an economic engine, and that the addition of Costco a few years ago was “a gold mine.”

“Most communities in the Chicago area don’t have that,” Kallien said.

That said, the days of tenants lining up to lease big-box retail spaces that have been vacated are gone. Kallien’s study will be able to point generally to directions the village might take in confronting the changing retail scene, but more in-depth analysis might require additional work.

For example, he said if there comes a time where traditional commercial retail property might be ripe for redevelopment, how would the village handle that redevelopment process?

“How do you do it, through an RFP process or reaching out to developers?” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Given the experience of recent years, however, Kallien said the village should start confronting that future.

“I think they have to have those discussions,” he said. “It will be my job to lay out a couple of alternatives. If the political winds are right, they might want to go down one of those paths.”

Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said he was made aware of Kallien last year by former North Riverside Mayor Richard Scheck as the two discussed the recent wave of retail departures from the village.

“We wondered if there was someone from outside who could come in as a way of guiding us,” said Hermanek. “Scheck mentioned he knew somebody from Oak Brook with a reputation for development in Oak Brook, Aurora and Naperville. So I gave him a call.”

According to Hermanek, he and Village Administrator Guy Belmonte met with Kallien late last year before inviting him to appear before a meeting of the village board’s finance committee on Feb. 11.

At the committee meeting, which all members of the village board attended, trustees agreed that Kallien’s services would be beneficial. The contract was awarded on Feb. 18, though the matter was not listed on the village board’s meeting agenda that night.

“To have a professional come in and get some ideas that are out of the box can’t hurt,” Hermanek said.

New advisory committee created

Also on Feb. 18, the village board voted unanimously to create an Economic Development Commission, made up of residents and local business owners, to discuss matters related to commercial development in the village.

The chairman of the commission will be Jason Bianco, whose term as village trustee will be ending in April. He was not slated for re-election by the VIP Party.

Hermanek described the commission as “a think tank of residents and business leaders in the village.” He said Bianco was given latitude to recruit members to the commission.

Among those chosen to serve on the volunteer committee were Lenora Giurini, a resident who works in the insurance industry; Monica Pineda, a resident who works in the mortgage business; Todd Gidd and Rick Wagner, a pair of residents who work in the IT industry; Koula Michalopulos, a resident who works in banking; George Georgopoulos, a contractor who also serves on the village’s Citizens Recreation Committee; Paul Porter, the president of MB Financial Bank in North Riverside; Michael Dropka, a resident and Riverside Township GOP committeeman; Mark Schottler, a local attorney; and Karrie Garza, a local resident.

Bianco said he wants any resident who is interested to attend the group’s meetings. A specific schedule has not yet been finalized.

“Each person has a vested interest in the community,” Bianco said. “There’s no other agenda than wanting us to be successful in the future. We need to evolve and diversify our economy.”