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Aldermen Discuss the Future of Hahn Street

Hotel? Condos? "We have a rare opportunity to take a second bite at this apple," 1st Ward Alderman Paula Pezza said.

It's one of the last prime pieces of real estate in Elmhurst's downtown area. It has been courted by developers, planned by Morningside Group as a mixed-use property with condos and retail, then .

But now, six years since the project was first discussed, Elmhurst City Council members are ready to try again to give new life to the Hahn Street development, bordered by North Avenue, York Road, Addison and Third streets.

Consultants Tracy Cross and Holly Eageny of Tracy Cross and Associates met with aldermen at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday to find out what the city envisions for the project. While they were eager to hear their ideas, Cross was clear about one thing: He will not recommend any project the economy can't support.

"Some define planning in terms of a vision," said Cross, who has been doing market analysis for 40 years. "We're a little more practical. We define vision as what's marketable and what (matches) the comprehensive plans of cities, municipalities."

Nevertheless, aldermen provided plenty of food for thought with regard to Hahn Street.

First Ward aldermen Paula Pezza and Diane Gutenkauf represent the residents adjacent to the Hahn Street project.

"We have a little extra interest in this particular development," Pezza said.

She said she doesn't want to see "another humdrum, run-of-the-mill mixed-use development with first floor retail and condos above."

"I think that's a thing of the past," she said. "What don't we have? I can envision a really unique, attractive boutique hotel with a restaurant on the first floor—a small convention-type venue with a jazz piano bar. We need to really think outside the box."

The hotel would be the spot parents would stay when visiting their kids at Elmhurst College, she said. Now, they stay on the outskirts of town and travel to other communities to eat and shop.

"If a hotel was here, they could walk to shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and still be close to family," she said.

Gutenkauf said this type of venue has been "instrumental in sparking development" in Beloit, Wisc.

"As our model, that is a place that comes to mind," she said.

Fourth Ward Alderman Kevin York also liked the hotel option.

"The key for me is just that it broadens the downtown area and makes the north central business district more attractive," he said, adding that right now, there is nothing to connect City Centre to the north business district.

"If we could bridge the gap, find something in the middle that will draw people, that's a win-win," he said.

Third Ward residents also have mentioned wanting a hotel or bed and breakfast, Alderman Michael Bram said.

"We (also) have to have some type of retail, possibly some type of entertainment," he said. "We need to make sure this is a big draw. … Obviously, no bank. Nothing that doesn't generate sales tax. I can't stress that enough."

Not everyone agreed with the hotel concept.

"A boutique hotel sounds hit or miss, and if you miss, what are you left with?" 6th Ward Alderman Steve Morley said.

The idea of rental apartments, townhomes, or condos, which were part of the last plan for Hahn Street, also were discussed.

"I'd like to keep retail on the first floor, but also whatever we can do on those upper floors to create a captive audience, so they'll stay there, eat there, shop in downtown," 7th Ward Alderman Mark Mulliner said.

If apartments were part of the equation, they would need to be flexible enough to be converted into condos later, 3rd Ward Alderman Dannee Polomsky said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Chris Healy said he wouldn't be opposed to apartments.

"If apartments are hot right now, and 10 years from now the market shifts, landowners will find a way to turn those into condos," he said.

Pezza said council members should be careful about asking for apartments.

"Regarding the studio and one-bedroom apartments, we need to be very careful because of the proximity to Elmhurst College and the college's lack of housing," she said. "It could turn into a dormitory. I don't think residents would appreciate (that)."

She also said she had heard of instances where people from out of town have rented small, inexpensive apartments just to use as an address so their children could attend District 205 schools.

"It happens," she said. "I've received calls about that myself."

Larger dwellings also could be a burden on the school district, York said.

"If we get to a point where there are three- or four-bedroom apartments that would draw bigger families, that would put an undue burden on our school district," he said.

Aldermen said they also want to be mindful of parking issues, concerns of existing businesses, how the structure would blend in with the adjacent areas and what should be the appropriate density.

"I'm not afraid of density," 5th Ward Alderman Scott Levin said. "Creating density in that location is what's going to help us tie the far north to downtown."

Aldermen also referred to towns they don't want to emulate.

"I don't want it to look like a massing of heavy structures," Gutenkauf said, citing buildings in Arlington Heights and Evanston.

Pezza said she would prefer not to compare Elmhurst to any other town because Elmhurst is thriving, with its access to "transportation, cultural venues, symphony, college and vibrant downtown."

"We have our own unique identity. I don't want to lose that," she said. "Once we lose that, we become Anywhere, USA."

So what are the next steps? The consultants will continue to gather data; they have been meeting with business owners and developers in town to discuss market viability. No residents chose to speak at Monday's meeting, but City Manager Jim Grabowski said there will be a public forum in the future for residents to share their ideas.

"We're in the initial process of gathering all the secondary data so we can present our findings in a way that is substantiated by empirical evidence," Cross said. "We're going to be marketing this property, inviting a new set of residents that are going to be very active in your community. We want to make sure the area has the vibrancy the City Centre does."

Susan Smentek June 13, 2012 at 01:34 AM
The area bounded by York Road on the east, North Avenue on the north, the Metra tracks on the south and West Avenue to the west has no park, playground or green space. We'd like to see public green space as part of the development.
Bill Angel June 13, 2012 at 04:31 PM
What about a Trader Joes? Whole Foods?
Jane June 13, 2012 at 06:57 PM
With the new Mariano's going up further North on York, you can forget about Trader Joe's or Whole Food's ever coming to Elmhurst. I don't think either were anyway, but once that Mariano's opens, forgettaboutit.
Patch reader June 13, 2012 at 09:28 PM
For the last time..... to all of the folks who think that the city did not pursue these two stores (Whole Foods and Trader Joe's), listen up! When choosing locations, these companies look at the demographics in a given geographical area and are not limited to just a single town. According to their (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) criteria, Elmhurst is not a match. If you don't believe it, call their corporate headquarters and ask. Their decision to not be here is not because of lack of efforts from the city or other grass roots attempts. On another note, Marriano's will do very well. Where one is successful, others will probably follow, so don't be surprised if another high end or specialty grocer eventually takes a second look. Their store will provide a great anchor to much-needed future development on the north side of York. If anything, Marriano's will wake up Jewel and Dominick's and make them step up their game.
Dan June 21, 2012 at 12:23 AM
There is an article at the Wheaton Patch about Morningside a TIF and luxury apartments that might be of interest.
Adam June 22, 2012 at 07:36 PM
speaking of marianos... are they ever going to start construction? nothing has happened since the mayor broke the news
NotyourJennifer August 07, 2012 at 06:03 PM
How about a Trader Joes?
Darlene Heslop August 08, 2012 at 02:20 AM
jennifer..., please see the comment by "patch reader" here on this article, just a couple of comments ahead of yours...(dated june 13, 2012) for a very good answer to that very question...thanks... .
Lawrence O'Neill March 05, 2013 at 11:37 PM
I would like to know who owns the property and if they have any political/administrive function with the City of Elmhurst AND/OR the county or state.

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