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."
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