Written by By Dermot Connolly
Worth is experiencing a resurgence in home sales, and Chicago Ridge is looking forward to welcoming the band Survivor back to Ridgefest this summer, just two of the tidbits of information revealed by the mayors of both villages during talks at the Chicago Ridge Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon on March 23.
Both mayors highlighted growth and development plans in their respective communities.
“We’re enjoying a resurgence in home sales,” said Werner. “There are three or four home sales every week, and many have been empty for over two years.
”We have absolutely surpassed number of building permit fees for this fiscal year too. It’s looking really good. Our neighborhoods are improving,” added Werner
Addressing chamber members at Jenny’s Steakhouse in Chicago Ridge, Werner added that, “the growth in population of the village has resulted both elementary schools in the village, and Worth Junior High School, are rapidly inching toward maximum capacity. “
In other positive economic news, Werner also said Worth is now part of the Cal-Sag Enterprise Zone, a state-supported program aimed at encouraging development. Toward that end, developers working within the zone are entitled to property tax rebates for five years.
“Work permit fees have also be cut in half for developers,” she said.
Werner said the village has also embarked on a transit-oriented development plan, taking a long-range look at ways to improve the area within a half-mile radius of the Metra train station at 110th and Depot Road. The mayor noted that the January opening of the Windy City Cannabis medical marijuana dispensary at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. was also good for the village.
“It opened with very little fanfare and no problems,” she said, adding that the only concern now is that it might not stay open. “There are not enough customers to support it,” she said, because of state restrictions on the types of illnesses that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions.
“Only 5,000 people are signed up for medical marijuana and the dispensary developers were hoping for 100,000 people,” she said, pointing out that the dispensaries were opened as a four-year experiment, which might fail without enough clients.
The mayor said she recently contacted Gov. Bruce Rauner, seeking his support for expanding the number of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in Illinois, but had not heard back from him.
When his turn came to talk, Tokar pointed to another type of medical facility, a cancer center that is being built in Chicago Ridge this year.
Six cancer specialists are partnering in the new two-story development going up at 10604 Southwest Highway. The mayor, who recently participated in a groundbreaking ceremony on the site, said there will be office space for 25-30 doctors in the two-story building. It is scheduled to be completed in May 2017.
“This kind of economic development builds on itself,” he said.
Other village developments include a Miller’s Ale House, which is being built on the site of the Tilted Kilt restaurant that closed last fall, outside Chicago Ridge Mall. Tokar said this will be only the third Miller’s in Illinois. He expects the casual restaurant to be more successful than the Tilted Kilt, which he said was the wrong fit for the location.
Tokar also discussed the Chicago Ridge Fire Department’s successful reopening of a long-empty firehouse last spring at 107th and Lombard Avenue. The building is now manned by part-time firefighters, and the mayor said it has resulted in a two-minute reduction in response times.
He credited Fire Chief George Sheets with starting the part-time firefighter program, in which the part-timers are trained exactly the same as the full-time staff. Chicago Ridge also has paid on-call firefighters.
“It is saving the town a bundle while providing the same protection,” said the mayor, noting that the village received an award from the Illinois Public Employee Labor Relations Board for being able to successfully combine full-time and part-time firefighters,
He also thanked Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, who was at the luncheon, for sharing Sheets, who splits his time between the two communities.
He said that arrangement also has saved Chicago Ridge $80,000 annually.
Regarding Ridgefest, the popular summer festival, held the last weekend in July, Tokar revealed that Survivor will be playing on the Saturday date of the festival.
This signals a return to big-name entertainment that the fest used to be known for. Last year, when local acts were featured, the fest netted a profit of more than $18,000, after losing money the year before. But Tokar pointed out that over the fest’s 25-year history; it has generated about $1.25 million for local charities.
“We expect it to be a great success again this year, although I just heard we are competing with Lollapalooza,” he said.