Chicago Ridge mayor calls Tri-State problem 'terrible'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Visitors view information about the timeline for reconstruction plans along I-294 during an open house held last Thursday night at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar recalls the last time he drove on the Central Tri-State Tollway.

“I was just over there about four or five days ago,” Tokar said during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “It is extremely difficult to get on and get off the interchange at 95th Street in Hickory Hills. Then try going south to north and you have to suddenly cross three lanes of traffic to get on 294. It’s terrible.”

Tokar is on the Southwest Conference of Mayors board that has studied the traffic congestion and the ramp access on 95th Street entering and exiting 1-294. It is a major problem with no specific answers, the mayor said.

“They’ve got to do something,” Tokar said. “It’s terrible and they are aware that it’s terrible.”

The Illinois Tollway Commission has been hosting open house meetings to share information with residents, businesses and communities as part of a plan for reconstruction of the Tri-State. The latest open house was held last Thursday night at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

Visitors had the opportunity to watch a short film on the history of 294 and the construction plans along the 22-mile route from Balmoral Avenue to 95th Street.

The brief film noted that the Tri-State Tollway was originally constructed in 1958. While improvements have been made to the northern and southern portions of I-294, the Central Tri-State is need of major reconstruction after years of make do repairs done in a patchwork fashion, according to the Illinois Tollway Commission.

Continued patching has become costly and disruptive to traffic, which has created additional congestion and unreliable travel times.

Andre Brown, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was looking over the vast charts during the open house. He is pleased that something is going to be done about relieving congestion.

“At work they let me start later,” said Brown, who has to make the daily drive on 294 from Chicago to Deerfield. “It still takes me about one hour and 20 minutes. When I leave, I’m resigned to the fact that it’s going to take two hours to get home. I knew that when I accepted the job, but it would be nice if some changes could be made.”

Brown has a few suggestions for Tollway representatives at the open house.

“I would like to see more exits before 95th Street so that traffic would not get so blocked up,” Brown said. “You got everybody getting off at 95th Street. Maybe an exit could be put in near UPS (in Willow Springs) or just before 95th Street.”

Illinois Tollway representatives said at the open house said that relieving congestion, adding additional lanes and better access to and exiting I-294 are top priorities. Major construction on the Central Tri-State will begin sometime this year with all the improvements and expansion plans being completed in 2025.

A major first step in the direction for reconstruction plans is the Mile Long Bridge that extends over 294 and carries drivers over two major railroads, three water resources, several roads, and serves a major shipping distribution center for UPS and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BSNF) Railroad.

The Mile Long Bridge was originally constructed in 1958 and is nearing the end of its service life, according to the Illinois Tollway. Reconstruction of the bridge will begin before the mainline repairs due to condition of the bridge. Coordination with natural resource agencies, major business operations, property owners, and local agencies have to take place to enable the Tollway to maintain four lanes of traffic while mainline construction is occurring, Illinois Tollway officials note.

Tokar said the Mile Long Bridge repairs is the first priority of Tollway officials

“That being said, they are going to look at what needs to be done out here, and once they do, then they might have to purchase some property. But they have a lot to do first.”

And that includes the 95th Street interchange.

“They are aware of the problem and I don’t know what they are going to do about it,” Tokar said. “They know that the (southwest suburban) mayors are concerned about it.

“They have increased the budget from $2 billion to $4 billion, so they are serious about it,” Tokar added. “They want to get it right.”

SeatGeek Stadium will be new name of Bridgeview venue

  • Written by Steve Metsch and Ray Hanania

By unanimous vote, the Bridgeview Village Board has approved a partnership that will bring a new name for what’s long been called Toyota Park.

SeatGeek and the village have agreed on naming the popular soccer and concert venue SeatGeek Stadium after the current Chicago Fire pro soccer season concludes.

Terms of the agreement were not released, but this is the first naming agreement for SeatGeek, which was founded in 2009.

“Chicago is an incredible city for live events, and we look forward to welcoming locals and visitors to SeatGeek Stadium,” SeatGeek co-founder Russ D’Souza said.

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SeatGeek is a ticket resale site for sporting events, concerts and the theater.

Tickets are either in the secondary market – tickets being re-sold – or from primary markets. SeatGeek is also the primary ticket holder for all of the Major League Soccer teams, making it a perfect fit with the Chicago Fire.

Toyota Park opened in 2006 and its 10-year naming agreement with Toyota ended in 2016. SeatGeek will have brand identity throughout the stadium.

“We’re thrilled to align ourselves with SeatGeek as our new naming rights partner,” Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek said. “We’re excited about SeatGeek making a meaningful and long-term investment in the stadium and our community.”

The stadium is already home to the Chicago Fire and Chicago Red Stars pro soccer teams. The village and SeatGeek will work together to bring more live programming to the venue, including premier concerts, music festivals and international sporting events, with assistance from new venue management partner Spectra.

"Throughout the years our club – and, most importantly, our fans – have helped create memorable moments at this stadium," John Urban, COO of Chicago Fire Soccer Club, said. "We look forward to having SeatGeek add to our home-field advantage.”

According to sources, the naming rights deal has been in the works for many months. The Toyota naming rights agreement had expired and talks were ongoing for a new partner.

Last year, the village retained the services of W Partners, a sponsorship agency. W Partners has worked with the Chicago Cubs on their sponsorship and has been successful in landing many sponsorships as the Cubs have rebuilt their team under the ownership of the Ricketts family.

The naming rights agreement was preceded in the last few months by other board action, which made changes in the stadium.

In November, a new food service was selected by the Village board, which created a new revenue split between the food service contractor and the village.

The additional money definitely helps the village’s bottom line, Landek said at the time.

Another unexpected move occurred in December when management of the stadium was awarded to Spectra Management, a division of Comcast.

“The increase in focus on stadium content is important. We feel that a diverse and experienced company like Comcast will take our stadium to the next level,” Landek said.

SeatGeek is an official partner of Major League Soccer, and has club partnerships with Los Angeles Football Club, Minnesota United FC, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City.

SeatGeek also recently announced partnerships with the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints as well as the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Bridgeview and the area surrounding the stadium are undergoing an extensive transformation, including a 109-room Hampton Inn and Suites at SeatGeek Stadium and a mixed-use retail center featuring fast-casual restaurants and a variety of other businesses.


From major sporting events to J-Lo, stadium has proud history

  • Written by Steve Metsch


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                                                                                                File photo

Jennifer Lopez performed in concert at Toyota Park in 2014



Bridgeview’s Toyota Park – which will be renamed SeatGeek Stadium starting in 2019 – has been home to some historic and memorable events since it opened in June 2006.

First and foremost, it’s been home to the Chicago Fire, a member of the Major League Soccer. Several years ago, the Chicago Red Stars, a women’s pro soccer team, began calling Bridgeview its home.

It formerly was home to the Chicago Bliss of the Legends Football League, and the Chicago Machine of Major League Lacrosse.

But its soccer that has had the largest impact in the sports world at Toyota Park, located at 71st Street and Harlem Avenue. The Fire won 12 games, lost only two, and tied three at Toyota Park last season.

Toyota Park has hosted high school and college soccer games, rugby games, and several international soccer games.

In 2008, the United States team beat Trinidad and Tobago, 3-0, in a 2010 World Cup qualification game. In 2010, the US. Women beat Italy 1-0 in a qualifying game for the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

And in 2016, Mexico edged Panama, 1-0, in a “friendly” that nearly filled the stadium’s 20,000 seats.

Back in 2006, Toyota Park hosted the MLS All-Star Game, along with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s finale that saw the Fire beat the LA Galaxy, 3-1.

But it’s more than soccer.

Toyota Park has quite a name in the world of live music. Many top-name entertainers have played the stage on the south side of the stadium.

The Dave Matthews Band has visited Toyota Park.

Jimmy Buffett was an annual visitor -- appearing in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- with his loyal fans, dubbed Parrotheads, famously tailgating in the parking lots.

The jam band Phish visited in 2010. The next year, Kenny Chesney, a huge star in country music, performed at Toyota Park.

The rock ‘n’ roll legend Bob Dylan played there as a part of a music festival in 2012 that included Wilco and My Morning Jacket.

One of the biggest events at Toyota Park happened twice: The Crossroads Guitar Festival hosted by Eric Clapton. He brought the star-studded, daylong event featuring some of the finest guitarists in the world to Bridgeview in 2007 and 2010.

Tickets for the 2007 show were sold out in a reported 22 minutes. A DVD was released for each of the two shows.

Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks, Robert Cray, Jimmy Vaughan, B.B. King, Chicago’s own Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Vince Gill, John Mayer, Albert Lee, ZZ Top, Steve Winwood, and Clapton were among those who played in one or both shows.

In 2014, Jennifer Lopez brought her act to the stadium.

The three-day Chicago Open Air Festival packed in heavy metal music fans. In 2016, the lineup included Korn, Disturbed and Slipknot. KISS, Ozzy Osbourne and Slayer were in the lineup last year.

The festival’s site said it is “taking a hiatus” for 2018, but plans to return in 2019.

Toyota Park is also home to ethnic events like the Eid El-Fitir, a chance for Muslims to celebrate the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer, with mouth-watering foods.

The Viva Cinco De Mayo Festival will be held May 11-13. And Porky’s Rib Fest is set for June 15-17, attracting barbecued ribs restaurants from around the nation.

Toyota Park, which has received rave reviews from many soccer, music and festival lovers, won another honor in 2016.

That year, the Sports Turf Managers Association, a professional organization for the 2,600 men and women who manage sports fields worldwide, honored Toyota Park for having the finest professional soccer field in the nation.

Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek was thrilled that they won the award, noting the many compliments he’s heard from visitors about the quality of the playing field.

“That means our grass is the greenest, softer, stronger, more beautiful and more perfect than any soccer stadium in the country. Bridgeview should be proud of this recognition and how teams throughout the world recognize the wonderful place, Bridgeview and Toyota Park,” Landek said at the time.

The mayor noted that “soccer teams from throughout the world have played in Bridgeview and brought millions of dollars in revenue and guests to Bridgeview.”

Soon, they will be visiting SeatGeek Stadium.


Evergreen Park mayor lauds business success in 'State of the Village' address

  • Written by Sharon filkins

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                                              Photo by Sharon L. Filkins

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton (right) shakes hands with resident John Dahlke following his “State of the Village” address that was sponsored by the Evergreen Park Chamber of Commerce.

State of the Village


Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said the village is “alive and well” during his opening remarks of the “State of the Village” address on April 18.

Sexton told the 70 business leaders and residents at Barraco’s Pizza that the prospects for Evergreen Park are promising.

Sponsored by the Evergreen Park Chamber of Commerce, the audience welcomed Sexton with a round of applause as he was introduced by Laura Shallow, a board member.

In her introductory remarks, Shallow reminded the audience that Sexton has served as mayor of the village since 2001 after holding the positions of village clerk, trustee and chair of the United Homeowners organization. He was also recently named “Citizen of the Year” by the chamber.

Sexton said the continued growth and success of the business community, including the progress of the new Evergreen Park Plaza at 95th and Western. (At the time of his speech, the closing of all Carson’s stores had not yet been announced. That news came later in the evening).

He related that 14 of the 30 stores planned for the new Plaza are open.

“Whole Foods and Bath and Body Works are expected to open in January and Burlington is planning to open in the site originally planned for Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s was not a believer. They didn’t believe in our community and went elsewhere,” he said.

Other businesses he mentioned that are currently or will be part of the new Plaza development are DSW, TJ-Maxx, Starbucks, Ross and Planet Fitness.

“We also have Menard’s and Meijer’s in our village,” Sexton added. “But we can’t just tout the big businesses. An important part of our village is our smaller businesses and we need to continue to support them. We need to ‘Keep the Green in Evergreen’ because one percent of everything sold in Evergreen Park comes back to the village.”

Sexton also serves unofficially as the economic director of the village.

As he encouraged everyone to shop locally, he said “If our smaller businesses go out of business, it is going to be my fault and I don’t want that to happen.”

He cited a recent high ranking of Evergreen Park in a published report.

“Twelve of our businesses, along with our 4th of July Parade and Fireworks were listed as the best,” Sexton said. “Success breeds success, so we need to support our businesses, both large and small. We need to shop brick-and-mortar stores instead of ordering online.”

Sexton is a life-long resident of the village and graduate of Loyola University. Sexton and his wife, Karen, have been married for 43 years, raised three children and now have six grandchildren, all of whom reside in Evergreen Park.

Closing of Carson's concerns local mayors

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

The parking lot for Carson’s in Evergreen Park was full Friday afternoon as customers shop for discounted items after it was announced the store will close this summer.


Two local mayors are having to come to terms with the fact that Carson’s, the onetime iconic retail giant, will be closing by the end of the summer.

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton knew that the parent company, Bon-Ton Stores, filed for bankruptcy protection in February. However, he believed that because the new Carson’s at 9700 S. Western Ave. was making money that a deal could be arranged to keep that store open.

“Yes, they have informed me that they were closing,” Sexton said after getting the word officially last week. “The owners (Lormax Stern Development Company) thought they could stay open despite the bankruptcy because they have been a profitable store. But the judge ruled no.”

A bankruptcy judge on April 18 approved the sale of Bon-Ton’s assets, which includes Carson’s, to two liquidation firms after the retailer could not find someone to keep the department store open.

But Sexton is confident that while Carson’s departure is a crucial blow to the development of the new outdoor Plaza, he is confident that another store will take its place.

“With that said, I have talked to the owners at Lormax and they have told me that they have several offers to take their place,” Sexton said. “Our Carson’s had done very well. But this is more of a corporate thing.”

However, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said he was stunned after hearing Carson’s was closing, an anchor store at the Chicago Ridge Mall for years.

“It is unbelievable,” Tokar said Friday after receiving the news. “It doesn’t make sense. I was talking to the owners a while ago and they were telling me that they had a great Christmas. They were very happy and confident. That’s why this is so unbelievable. There is nothing we can do about it.”

At this early stage, Tokar said that he has no idea who can fill the large department store that provided an anchor at the south end of the mall. Sears is located at the north end of the mall,

“I thought, to tell you the truth, that Sears would be the store to close with all their problems,” Tokar said. “But they are still here. I never thought it would be Carson’s that was closing.”

While Sexton is confident that another retailer can replace Carson’s, he said its departure will be a sad occasion.

“Carson’s is a well-known store,” Sexton said. “A lot of women I know have told me how much they liked to shop there. From that aspect, it will be really missed.”

Carson’s history in the Chicago area market dates back 164 years. Carson’s became a fixture at the old Plaza back in 1964. When the last remaining stores of the old Plaza were demolished over two years ago, a new state-of-the art Carson’s was built. The new Carson’s was the first store to open in September 2016 as the anchor for the new outdoor development of the new Plaza.

The new Carson’s, which is 120,470 square feet, drew a large crowd for its grand opening and its presence enticed other retailers to become part of the development.

The parking lot was full as customers arrived at the Carson’s in Evergreen Park Friday afternoon to look for deals and essentially pay their last respects. Most of the people who visited Carson’s mentioned they were frequent customers. But on this day, signs indicating that the store is closing greeted customers.

“All the stores I grew up with are going out of business,” said Ann Woulfe, a resident of Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, who was carrying a couple bags of items as she approached her car. “It’s a shame. All you are going to have left is these discount stores. I used to like shopping here because it had nice items.

“And another thing I don’t like is that these people who work there are going to lose their jobs,” Woulfe added.

The increase in online shopping has had a major effect on brick-and-mortar stores across the country that has made malls more vulnerable than ever before. The presence of Amazon and other online companies have had a negative impact on retailers, critics claim.

“I think we better wake up,” Sexton said. “People should not just shop online exclusively because this is what is happening. I think people have to start realizing that. This is putting people out of work and that means a loss of jobs overall. And when people are of work, they don’t shop as much. We don’t want to see businesses close up.”

Sexton said Carson’s will remain open through August. However, shoppers who left Carson’s at Chicago Ridge Mall indicated that the store will close at the end of June. Tokar is hoping that a Supreme Court decision will be forthcoming in South Dakota that will result in online companies having to pay a sales tax, which they are currently not required to do.

“Unless the Supreme Court does something, I’m just not sure what we will do,” Tokar said. “We have our fingers crossed. This is a huge hit on brick-and-mortar stores. Something has to be done. All these online companies, and not just Amazon, don’t pay sales taxes where brick-and-mortar stores do. It just isn’t fair.”

Tokar said he will continue to talk to Chicago Ridge Mall management to come up with ideas. The Chicago Ridge mayor said it will be difficult to replace Carson’s, which takes up two floors and is 150,000 square feet.

Irene Gajecky, of Palos Heights, purchased some items from the Carson’s in Chicago Ridge on Friday afternoon.

“I like the store here because it was convenient,” Gajecky said. “Yeah, I’m going to miss it. It was an upscale store. I guess everyone can just go to Amazon. Maybe these department stores should just join together.

“But what can you do,” Gajecky added. “It’s the changing America.”