Morton Grove Mayor Debate: Getting Businesses, Forming a Downtown

The two candidates running for mayor answer questions on how Morton Grove could develop a downtown and what it will take to get name-brand businesses filling vacant space in town. Part 2 of 2 parts.


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.

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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.

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Red Sam Rackham March 27, 2013 at 04:50 PM
I don't consinder myself a perv. I just thought that "TK" would've added to MG's nightlife options and I do not consider waitresses in miniskirts to be obscene. Shame on you for referring to your fellow residents as "stupid." Maybe you're the 1 who needs to "grow some brains!" After all the place is NOT a "stripper joint" & only an ignorant uninformed moron would think otherwise. tsk tsk tsk ...
Pat Craig March 27, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Roughly 28% of the MG population is over the age of 65, not exactly the demographic attracted by a Tilted Kilt. Business has a tendency to look at things in a hard-nosed way because to a businessman the bottom line really is the bottom line. Perhaps that would explain why a large number of businesses in MG are medically related, medical supply related or involved servicing seniors and senior health issues. To a large portion of our population, nightlife is the $4.00 ealrly bird senior dinner.
Red Sam Rackham March 27, 2013 at 06:17 PM
But that means roughly 72% of MG population is under 65. Besides any good restaurant or nightclub would draw customers not only from within MG but also from various neighboring communities such as Skokie, Niles, Wilmette and Glenview. A good business doesn't confine it's advertising withing it's city limits ... and since when is 28% a large portion? But then again maybe you're right. Perhaps the Bringer Inn on Lincoln Avenue is as good as nightlife in MG will ever be.
Pat Craig March 28, 2013 at 01:55 AM
Red Sam; It has not gone unnoticed by restauranteurs that MG generally does not support white tablecloth restaurants. What our populace does seem to support are ethnic restaurants, (and we have some really good ones), breakfast places and fast food joints. As far as Dempster and/or Waukegan becoming "city center" type shopping districts, it ain't gonna happen. DiMaria is onto a partial solution with Lincoln Ave, (which WAS the traditional central business district "back in the day".) There is another possible solution, but it would require "outside the box" thinking and creativity I don;t see in either candidate for mayor. I hope they prove me wrong, but remember that as far back as the 1950's narrow thinking by leadership in MG turned away annexing property and lost Golf Mill.
Daniel Marconi March 28, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Rats: Give it up; who gives a rats a** about Evanston; grow up and put your Depends on. You're gonna need it....
Daniel Marconi March 28, 2013 at 02:06 AM
Great point; I can't tell you how people say "we are win these prestigious landmark awards for such a fine communtiy.... that translates into how much sales tax revenue $$$$... Yes; good point Newbiee.
Daniel Marconi March 28, 2013 at 02:08 AM
Red Sam: Actually our library sucks and now they are starting to realize this w/BPAC in office 2 years that the space is not sufficient so be ready for them to come back to us for more $$$$....
Daniel Marconi March 28, 2013 at 02:14 AM
Rats: We aren't stupid but you sure are; leaving tax dollars on the table for a 'supposed' reputation as a family oriented village is the actual stupidity. This type of establishment would draw residents from all over not just Morton Grove and would do no harm to any reputation we have or woud have in the future. In fact, if we never ever get another notice for being a "quality family villiage" in the future I'd be fine. I'm pretty sure i'll be able to sell my house all the same....
Newbiee March 28, 2013 at 03:27 AM
It's real easy for people to sit back and tell the world how easy it would be to turn around the MG "downtown" and attract big box stores and 1st class restaurants. People, this is never going to happen. Dempster corridor is way too narrow to support any type of development and no business or restaurant of any significance would accept the available footprint. Unless you start bulldozing homes, there are no options here. Lincoln, Austin, and waukegan won't work either, since the amount of capital investment required to jump start such an endeavor is magnitudes higher than anything MG could ever hope to attract. On top of that, the elitist mentality of some MG residents preaching that we are too good for an OTB or tilted kilt just serves as the final nail in the coffin. Business are not exactly lining up to come into MG. How many years did it take to get Culvers? And that is just a single fast food restuarant.
Newbiee March 28, 2013 at 03:28 AM
AND....What do we do when we get a LUCKY break and have someone actually want to build something significant? We tell them they are sleezy and we don't want them. Regardless of how you feel about the Tilted Kilt or OTB, they would have been a chance to attract additional business that initially would not consider MG. Frankly, if I had a million to build a restaurant and I needed it to be a success...I'm not building in on dempster. Dream your dreams, argue as much as you want, but it is going to be comic book stores, and mom/pop operations for MG. Prairie View may generate something, but it will take a miracle and probably new ownership before there is a chance of that happening. People need to figure out something else to argue about...this issue is pointless.
Red Sam Rackham March 28, 2013 at 03:42 AM
Right on! When I lived near the Chicago/Park Ridge city limits a Hooters opened up in that area. Hooters waitresses' attire is not much unlike that of Tilted Kilt waitresses. The presence of Hooters in that area did in no way bring down the property values or morality of the surrounding community nor did it have any affect on the children livin in that area. The prudish morons who feared that a Tilted Kilt would have a negative affect on life in Morton Grove were just that; morons. They kept a potentially lucrative business that might've created jobs in our town out of town & I'm sure those smug idiots are proud of their dubious accomplishment.
sherwin dubren March 28, 2013 at 06:39 AM
Chicago is already infested with places like hooters, so I'm not surprised this one you mention had no big effect on that neighborhood. Letting a Tilted Kilt or OTB into Morton Grove is not the panacea to our problems, unless you want to initiate a wave of these kinds of businesses and turn the village into the sleaze capitol of the northern suburbs. You don't need a lot of land to attract businesses. Look at the string of restaurants in the Glen (Glenview). They all lie along an even narrower street than Dempster, Patriot Drive. There are nice parcels of land like the old Maxwell's site, the south end of the Kraft property and all of Prairie View which offer good access and lots of traffic to draw in patrons. Before we complain about lack of space as an excuse for no development, let's fill up the places I just mentioned with establishments that both serve the populace of MG and attract others to shop and recreate in out town.
Mr. Rats March 28, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Hey Macaroni, Tilted Kilt will never open up in MG. You'll just have to drive a bit farther for Hooters or go to The Admiral Theater as they have decent chicken fingers.
Pat Craig March 28, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Newbiee I believe that hell has frozen over. We agree on something!
Red Sam Rackham March 28, 2013 at 01:37 PM
OMG Ratsmeister! Now you actually think that a restaurant/bar where waitresses wear plaid miniskirts (Tilted Kilt) is the same thing as a porn theater (Admiral)?!?!?!?!? You truly are 1 sadly deluded soul & you have our sympathy. tsk tsk tsk ... ☺
Newbiee March 28, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Sherwin. You just don't get it. There is no solution. Well, I guess that depends on your definition of solution. If you define solution as attracting big boxes or Glen Town Centre type developments...sorry, 0% chance. Make any suggestions that you want...never going to happen...period. That aside, let me provide what is obviously much needed help to assist you in getting this point. For one...you say that we can build a Glen Town Center type development on dempster. That is just wrong. The property footprint of the down (even at the narrowest if you ignore the big box anchors) is still at least twice as wide as the dempster corridor. Any that doesn't include the massive parking that you would also have to provide and the traffic issues it would generate. So, let's move past that. Now, let's say Mr. Obama that has spent 12 billion on his high speed rail initiative that has resulted in 3-5 mph speed increases decides that he might be wasting money (fat chance) and instead decides to give Sherwin Dubren 70 million to develop a Morton Grove downtown. Since no one on this planet with the money to build a glen town centre would ever do it in MG, the wonderful government of the USA is your only chance.
Newbiee March 28, 2013 at 02:05 PM
Part 2: Now, you have the money. You'll need to re-route dempster back into the metra station area and use that for your development. Makes sense. Metra stop there, etc. We may need to knock down some of those apartment buildings, but I'm sure the residents will be ok with your plan. So, you have the money, you have the land, you build your economic eden. oops. New south china mall problem. Ever heard of it? Let me enlighten you. Largest mall in the world. 2,350 stores. Coolest mall ever built. Utter failure. 99% vacant. Why? Because someone with money and no brains (kinda like this scenario we have created) decided to build a mall like this in Dongguan which is a blue collar town that doesn't have the economic base to support such a development. Hmmmm.. Sound familiar? This is never, ever, ever, ever going to fly. You can suggest parcels of land, businesses that you would like to have, and that is fine. However, no one in their right mind is going to make such an investment with the associated risk this would carry in this area. MG is a residential/family town that will have mom and pop stores and that is that. Unless we find some money bag idiot that is willing to gamble tens of millions on a development here (not going to happen), you need to live with what we have.
Brad March 28, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Prairie View Plaza could be a gold mine but due to our village screwing up the TIF project it is at a standstill. Our current village administrator tells Gomberg that "Not much" is going on with the mall as of today. Your kidding me right? Some village employees are obviously in way over their heads in trying any kind of economic development for MG. We have passed on way too many retail store in the past and that includes Harley Davidson who's average customer is 52 years old. Enough of the talking. Demand Action!
Pat Craig March 28, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Kind of like the "action" Trustee DiMaria took on Monday when he once again abstained from voting on the warrants? If the mayor hadn't voted the bills would not have been paid. Way to show leadership Mr. Trustee.
David Lewis March 28, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Yes, Prairie View Plaza could be a "gold mine" but let's keep in mind that it is owned and managed by private owners, not the village. We as residents can offer suggestions for the types of businesses we would like to see there but it is ultimately up to the plaza's ownership as to its future direction.
David Lewis March 28, 2013 at 04:38 PM
The Glen was built on the grounds of the former Glenview Naval Air Station at the cost of millions and millions of dollars from private investment groups. We have nowhere near that kind of vacant space in MG. It's fine for people to daydream but the reality is these types of commercial retail centers require huge intial investments of capital. We need to be realistic, folks. However, if Sherwin is willing to break open his piggybank and donate a few million as seed money to the cause, I support him.
Red Sam Rackham March 28, 2013 at 04:56 PM
OMG! U really believe that a restaurant/bar is sleaze just b'cuz the waitresses wear miniskirts? Sheeeeeeeeeeeeesh!
Brad March 28, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Government bodies TIF property. Not private investors.
Red Sam Rackham March 28, 2013 at 05:17 PM
To Dave Lewis: I don't think MG needs to have new businesses built. But the village hopefully will be able to attract business to use the many empty stores currently for sale or rent.
David Lewis March 28, 2013 at 05:33 PM
But the initial capital or matching capital must come from ownership. TIF does not pay for everything. If it did, we would all open businesses free of charge and paid for in full by the government.
Red Sam Rackham March 28, 2013 at 05:40 PM
Just curious; could some1 tells me what TIF stands for? Tax Increment Financing? Hey, I just said MG needs to attractbusiness to use the available empty stores currently for sale or rent BUT prospective busnesses should have their own capital.
David Lewis March 28, 2013 at 05:54 PM
For the record I would have been very much in favor of the Harley-Davidson store!
MIKE March 28, 2013 at 06:07 PM
To Newbie, what do you mean by re-routing Dempster back to the Metra Station?
Newbiee March 28, 2013 at 09:58 PM
That was part of a relatively non-serious response. I only meant that if you are going to build this meca of business, that you need to have access to it that doesn't involve going down residential streets. So, if you made dempster "loop" down to the metra and then somehow come back out eventually to rejoin its original course, then you could route people to this wonderful new area. Now, insert an immense amount of sarcasm above, but that was my point of that statement.
john April 03, 2013 at 11:17 AM
This was a closed debate only open to residents of the Woodlands. This is not transparency when you don't include the public, or at least post the whole debate on Youtube. All we have is Pam DeFiglio's take on the debate and slant on the the views of candidates.Both candidates act like the internet does not exist.


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