Here's Something We Learned Today: Elmhurst, Get Ready for Chick-fil-A
If audience reaction is any indication, Acting Mayor Scott Levin knocks it out of the park with State of the City address on Tuesday.
Each year, attendees at Elmhurst's State of the City Address can usually come away with some little tidbit of information they didn't have before they got there. Last year, former Mayor Pete DiCianni confirmed the rumor that Mariano's Fresh Market was coming to town.
This year, a murmer ran through the crowd of hundreds Tuesday when acting Mayor Scott Levin announced Chik-fil-A would be setting up shop at Route 83 and St. Charles Road, in front of Kmart. He mentioned it matter-of-factly during a discussion about economic development.
His address, as expected, covered the city's high points over the past year, but this year it was covered on live television for the first time. From start to finish, there were a lot of laughs for the crowd watching at home—and those in person at Community Bank of Elmhurst.
Levin joked his way through what otherwise might have been an ordinary, 45-minute presentation filled with statistics and figures, and he had the crowd laughing out loud on many occasions. Even before Levin spoke, his introduction felt more like a roast than a State of the City address.
Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce CEO John Quigley referred to him as Scott "Lame Duck" Levin, and chamber Chairman Paul Koch borrowed a classic line from Sarah Palin, saying the only difference between a pit bull and "hockey dad" Scott Levin is—wait for it—lipstick.
"Anyone know if Mayor Marcucci made it this morning? I went to his breakfast ...," Levin joked.
He said Marcucci would be known as the longest-serving Elmhurst mayor, while he would be remembered as the shortest-serving mayor for his five-month tenure.
"I will ask you, at the end of my tenure, are you better off now than you were six months ago?" he said.
Levin reminded the crowd that he ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor back in 2009, but was elected interim mayor by his fellow aldermen when Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni was elected to the DuPage County Board.
"Pete, thanks for making my dream come true," he said. "If I had known it would only take 14 votes to get here, I probably would have skipped that race back in 2009."
Levin then touched on the key areas of city government from the past year.
City finances have turned around since the recession began in 2009, Levin said. At that time, he was elected to a city finance task force.
"We recommended cuts and raising taxes," he said. "It wasn't popular, but we did what had to be done, and the council passed changes that made us whole again."
Now, the city's fund balances are all well in the black, debt is low and being paid off, and residents saw a slight property tax decrease this year, he said.
"We've come back in three short years to getting our reserves where they are supposed to be," he said.
Nearly everyone in Elmhurst will see about a $350 savings in their electric bill this year thanks to electricity aggregation agreed upon last year, Levin said.
"Of the $8.8 million in property taxes (paid to the city), aggregation will put $4.2 million back in residents' pockets," he said. "It's a very fine program.
One of the most common topics he receives calls about is garbage cans.
"Not sales tax, not building a new parking deck. It's garbage cans," he said. "We looked at the contract and were able to get basically the same cost, but everyone is getting a new 65-gallon toter and recycling container. Give it a chance. I think we'll all look back on this as a positive thing."
Levin said 69 new businesses opened in 2012, a "remarkable number that shows the vitality of our economy here in town." Hamburger Jones is up and running, Kitchen Eatery should be open in the next 30 days, and Meatheads is scheduled to open in the old Fresco's spot by the fountain at City Centre this spring, he said.
He also outlined the three tax increment financing districts that have been discussed for most of the past year, especially TIF 4, the only one of the three that has been approved so far.
"North York—that's an area that really needs some help," he said. "When the recession hit, those properties went down even further."
With Mariano's Fresh Market slated for completion in April or May, the city is getting lots of interest from other businesses that want to be located near the popular market, Levin said.
"That is going to be a premier development area for Elmhurst," he said.
The nearby Hahn Street development, also a part of TIF 4, has had a "painful history," Levin said.
"But we're ready to get it off the ground with condos, retail," he said. "The (request for proposals) hasn't even gone out yet and we have 25 developers that have expressed an interest in that area."
The Addison Street LLC development also is in the works, with a public hearing scheduled Jan. 24 to determine whether that structure can be four or six stories tall.
"We're adding parking, more retail and it will be a much nicer looking corner," Levin said.
In all, the city saw $82 million worth of business and residential development in 2012, Levin said. Ninety-five new home permits were issued, compared to 57 in 2011 and 46 in 2010.
"If you drive around, you see it," he said. "Houses are going up in every neighborhood."
He also touched on the completion of miles of road resurfacing, streetscaping and pedestrian safety enhancements in the city.
Stormwater, flooding, electrical reliability will continue to be a focus in 2013, Levin said.
"2013 will be the year to say what we are going to do about (flooding), how much can we spend," Levin said. "We've taken key steps toward solving electrical problems in Elmhurst; someday we might be able to go on eBay and sell our generators, but not yet."
He outlined work already approved, including creating a water storage facility that will hold 1 million gallons on the south side of town, and work already done, like lining 25,000 feet of sanitary sewers and completing 97 sewer repairs through smoke testing.
Officials are all aware that a lot of work remains, however.
"I think we can eliminate (flooding) during my tenure," Levin joked. "Four more months to see how it goes."
In closing, Levin recognized all the city departments. He mentioned, among many other city achievements, District 205's Blue Ribbon schools, musuem awards, library recognitions and the high state ranking of the Elmhurst Police Department.
He praised new Police Chief Michael Ruth as the "top of the top" of a long list of qualified candidates for the job, and gave recognition to former Interim Chief Dominic Panico because "I know what it's like to be acting chief."
He cited crime statistics, saying crime is going down in "virtually every category" except robbery, which increased due mainly to four bank and three gas station robberies.
"So, stay out of the banks," he said, looking at Community Bank of Elmhurst Chairman Bill Gooch.