The village of Riverside is considering creation of one or more business districts along Harlem Avenue south of Longcommon Road as a way to build a fund that could be used for infrastructure improvements, property acquisition and economic incentives to promote redevelopment of key commercial properties on the village’s eastern border.
“We still notice there is potential on Harlem Avenue for economic development, and before economic development really starts to happen, we would like to capture this opportunity,” said Village Manager Jessica Frances at the July 18 meeting of the Riverside Board of Trustees.
Frances said that she is soliciting quotes from consultants to conduct a feasibility study and lead the village through the process of establishing the business district, a formal designation governed by state statute.
Trustees will be presented with a recommendation to hire a consultant in either late August or early September.
If the village board approves the creation of one or more new business districts, they would be in place for 23 years and would allow the village to impose a 1-percent sales tax within the district to fund development-related activities within their boundaries.
Riverside created its first business district, which includes four properties on Harlem Avenue at Longcommon Road, in 2017. The imposition of the sales tax there has resulted in $11,823 in new funds and continues to reimburse the village of Riverside for its purchase of the former dry cleaning business at 2710 Harlem Ave.
Other areas along Harlem Avenue – south from Addison Road to Lawton Road and at the corner of Harlem and Ogden – are key potential redevelopment sites, said Frances. With Pace planning to roll out a new Pulse rapid transit bus route along the Harlem Avenue corridor, “I think it’s a great opportunity right now to evaluate it,” she said.
Among the possible redevelopment sites are the recently vacated Bank of America property at Harlem Avenue and East Burlington Street and the large adjoining commercial parcels at Harlem and Ogden.
While initially Frances proposed possibly two separate business districts, whose boundaries roughly correspond to commercial zoning classifications, Trustee Wendell Jisa called it a “no-brainer” to include all of Harlem Avenue in one business district to allow the village more flexibility in using sales tax money to fund things like property acquisition and streetscape improvements elsewhere on Harlem Avenue.
“By extending it down Harlem Avenue and having it connected, you theoretically, over time, have the potential of expanding and creating a much larger business district on one of our main throughways,” Jisa said.
Trustees Edward Hannon and Cristin Evans cautioned against making the business district boundaries too large, saying it might alarm owners of residential properties, which are numerous, along Harlem Avenue.
“I don’t know how it would land with the residents if we tell them we want to include their properties in the business district,” Evans said. “I don’t know if they would understand what that means.”
Village Attorney Michael Marrs said that as part of the process to create a business district, all property owners within the proposed district would be notified and there would be a public hearing.
“I would hate to see by the inclusion of residences a negative implication on what any plan would be,” said Hannon. “It’d be nice to be able to have the funds available should an opportunity arise to expand that district, but I’d rather take a wait-and-see approach.”