This is part two of Patch.com's coverage of the Morton Grove mayoral debate between candidates Larry Gomberg and Dan DiMaria Thursday.
The candidates, who are running for mayor in the April 9 election, were invited by the Woodlands Condo Association in Morton Grove to come and answer questions.
About 40 people came to the forum, held in one of the condo building common rooms at the Woodlands, a community of condos and townhouses east of the Morton Grove train station, and south of Lincoln Avenue.
Developing a downtown in Morton Grove?
Question from Rodney of the Woodlands condo association: Morton Grove has a distinct disadvantage because there is no downtown. Evanston, Glenview, Park Ridge all have downtowns. You can park your car and walk around. What about developing a downtown in Morton Grove?This could not be done overnight, but with planning you could do it in 15 to 20 years. It could revolutionize how Morton Grove is as a town.
Gomberg: After noting the village developed a comprehensive plan in 1999 and a framework plan in 2007, Gomberg said:
We have to set up a plan to do that sort of thing, You talk about innovative ideas for Dempster, since we’ve taken parking off the street. In San Francisco they have the same situation. We have wider sidewalks now-- there, they put in benches, tables, they have businesses move out on sidewalks for sidewalk sales, restaurants serve at tables on sidewalks. Obviously their climate is more moderate. But we have to look at ideas and implement them.
DiMaria: The problem is when they planned Dempster Street, whoever the engineers were, God rest their souls, they probably didn’t use their heads. It’s a state road, but there’s a little known jewel called the Metra station.
The plan is you brand and market the village of of Morton Grove. You take Lincoln Avenue, we can control what we can do there, because it’s not a state road.
Maybe we have a nice arch, called Lincoln's End, near the library. You get businesses excited about being a part of it. You start putting money away so you can attract businesses. It’s not the 1950s, where a guy would come in and build it with his own money. It doesn’t work that way now. Today it's 'What are you going to do for me, Morton Grove? Skokie’s going to give me this and this.'
The best spot you can have restaurants and where you can have a downtown is right here on Lincoln.
You have Burt's Place, it’s world-renowned, it’s on the Travel Channel.
I work downtown every day, they know Pequod’s. You wouldn’t believe how many people know Pequod’s.
In a village that has 22% forest preserves and Dempster as a state road, we can do it here on Lincoln Avenue.
It starts with leadership, and getting businesses excited about the town.
Gomberg: We seem to both have ideas but you have to have them implemented, you have to work with the village administrator, the village economic development commissioner.
I had a nice conversation with the village administrator today. I asked what is going on with Prairie View Plaza. He said--not much.
Pequod’s-- what’s going on with that? Well…
I didn’t get a definitive answer all afternoon.
It seems like nothing’s going on, we need somebody to start lighting a fire under somebody.
Luring businesses to Morton Grove
DiMaria: I talked to a bar owner in Niles—he said his Friday afternoon crowd is down 30 percent since Morton Grove opened the video machines.
I said to him, you want to open in Morton Grove? Give me a call, we’ll find a place for you to open in Morton Grove. But it’s not like Larry thinks, that I’ll be out like a real estate agent every day trying to round up business.
There’s a difference between being a trustee and being a mayor. I took my own initiative, as a trustee, to write a letter to a business nobody had heard of, at the time, called Five Guys. But they don't take an offer from a trustee seriously. It has to come from the mayor.
Comment from audience member, who said he met the owner of the Mariano's grocery chain:
I approached them (Mariano's), and I went to the village hall and told them, and I was given a couple sheets of paper and they said, have them (Mariano's) call us.
DiMaria: If I was mayor now, I would be on the phone right now. I would showed them I’m interested.
Gomberg: We have a different definition of leadership. Our economic development director has to have the passion and the contacts and the knowhow to find the businesses.
That’s leadership. Leadership is not running around and finding these businesses. We pay the village administrators good money because they have expertise.
Also, when businesses leave, we don’t do exit interviews; we don’t know why they leave.
DiMaria: We have a new girl Nancy (Nancy Radzevich of the Community and Economic Development Department). She’s very sharp. We need a strategic plan, an economic development plan.
Tilted Kilt proposal and aftermath
Gomberg: We both know the mayor (Staackmann) had a meeting with (business owner and developer) Ted Mavrakis. Someone determined it’s not in the best interest of the village to have the Tilted Kilt here.
DiMaria: Ted Mavrakis is the Giordano’s owner. He put $1 million in that restaurant, at Dempster and Austin. Wouldn't you say that corner is looking a lot better now?
The mayor never wanted it (the Tilted Kilt), he didn’t think it would be appropriate for Morton Grove. Larry or I would have a town hall meeting.
I said, 'Ted, what happened?' He said, 'your mayor made me feel unwelcome.'
Here’s what the mayor should have done; 'Ted, I’m not sure the Tilted Kilt is going to fly; but what about other ideas to pursue for that property?'
Earlier: Tilted Kilt proposal for Morton Grove withdrawn
You don’t take a guy who puts $1 million in your town and make him feel unwelcome.
That was one of the issues where I said, 'I’m going to run for mayor, I can do better.'
About the $1.1 million property slated for new police station
Question from audience member: Why would we put an option of $1.1 million on the General Bandage property on Lehigh when we have property on Ferris and Capulina?
Earlier story: Morton Grove board OKs $1.1 million for new police station site
Gomberg: The town owns that property.
Comment from audience member: Nothing's being done with the parcel of land across from Burt’s (on the west side of Ferris, south of Capulina).
Gomberg: You have to have some say on what you want to go there. I’m going to be a facilitator as to working with staff to what should go there.
Audience member: God knows how much money you’re going to put into the General Bandage property.
Gomberg: No one knew about it at the time (the vote took place). In my administration you’d hear about it a lot earlier in the process.
Comment from audience member: You’re going to allocate $1.1 million, and you already have property at Ferris and Capulina.
Desire for an outdoor cafe
Comment/question from another audience member: It bothers me we don’t even have a theater. I go to the Pickwick. We don’t have a nice grocery store. We live here in the Woodlands, we have our beautiful gazebos, but you know how nice it would be to go to a little outdoor café and sit and have a cocktail with friends?
And why is it you have this big famous restaurant (Burt's), all overgrown with weeds and bushes?
DiMaria: You’re talking about what you call a draw business. While some people complain about the grapevines, others love it, they love the little dusty bobbleheads.
The discussion moved to the fact Rosemont has developed a huge complex of restaurants and entertainment.
DiMaria: We can get a Pinstripes, but right now we’re not competitive with our economic development. When we can get competitive, they’ll come.
Regarding luring businesses to town:
DiMaria: Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. We’ve had a lot of no loafs at all.
Will emergency responders get blocked by train?
Question from Patch.com: Regarding the General Bandage property on Lehigh--if the police station is located there, the railroad tracks cut that site off from the rest of the town in two places (at the station, and again further northwest on Lincoln). What if police get an emergency call and there's a train blocking their path as they try to get out to respond to the emergency?
DiMaria: The police department is conducting a study; that report will come back, we’re not even at that point yet.
We should be keeping our residents up to date. We’ve brought that up at meetings.
You’ve got patrol cars that are out (on patrol) in the west and east (sides of town); they can go up Lehigh and take a left on Dempster.
Gomberg: The mayor did form a commission to get citizen input into that building.