Raising Cane's coming to Stony Creek

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

     First came Mariano’s grocery, and then Cooper’s Hawk winery and restaurant, and now a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers fast-food restaurant is coming to the Stony Creek Promenade, the third anchor at the southeast corner of the Stony Creek Promenade Shopping Center at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue.

    At the Oct. 27 Village Board meeting, Steve Radice, the director of business development for the village, gave a glowing report on the revenue generated by the businesses that have opened on in the new development over the past year and then revealed the news about Raising Cane coming.

      According to the company website, this will be the first Raising Cane’s in the Chicago area. The company is based in Baton Rouge, La., and most of the locations are in southern states. The only ones listed in Illinois are close to St. Louis.

     Radice said that Raising Cane’s has signed a lease to open on the gravel space formerly known as “the bank pad” in front of Mariano’s facing Cicero Avenue near 110th Street. Currently in the due diligence and planning stage, company officials expects to submit site plans for approval this month, with construction slated to begin next spring.

     The fast-food chain that specializes in chicken fingers and sauces is named after founder Todd Graves’ yellow Labrador retriever, a certified pet therapy dog that regularly visits children’s hospitals. An old mural found on the original restaurant in 1996 inspired the company logo, and similar murals are now painted on all the restaurants. That tradition is expected to continue in Oak Lawn, officials said.

     Radice said that business at Cooper’s Hawk “is going gangbusters” since it opened during the summer, with 19,000 diners and 22,000 bottles of wine sold the first month. The restaurant has 125 employees, and the hope is that Raising Cane will do just as well.

     Mayor Sandra Bury said after the meeting that plans for a bank to locate there did not work out, but agreed that a restaurant would bring in more tax revenue to the village. Paul Sheridan, of developer Hamilton Partners, said that when a Raising Cane representative approached Hamilton about the possibility of opening a location on the site, the chance to bring in more retail sales should not be passed up. The owners of Mariano’s were also agreeable, since there is still plenty of parking space available.

      “Raising Cane’s community focus is very exciting in that their stated mission is to be as active in the community as possible,” said Bury. “Their history of education, feeding the hungry, promoting pet welfare and entrepreneurship should resonate very well with Oak Lawnians.”

      The mayor added that she hopes the owners bring Raising Cane, the therapy dog, to visit Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital, and the nearby Ronald McDonald House, when the restaurant opens.

Mayors are not amused by county tax hike proposal

  • Written by Joe Boyle

       The Southwest Conference of Mayors voted unanimously against the three percent sales tax hike proposed last month by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

        The officials called for the vote last Thursday night during the Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting at the Lemont Village Hall.

      The mayors were also in firm opposition to Gov. Rauner’s proposal to give low-interest loans to municipalities while the state budget impasse enters its sixth month.

      “I was pretty disturbed about that,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, regarding Rauner’s proposal. He added that the proposal was “ridiculous.” Bennett also mentioned that a letter will be sent to the governor stating the Southwest Conference of Mayors objection to his idea.

     Bennett said that he was surprised at Preckwinkle’s proposal since the additional penny on a dollar sales tax was approved earlier this year. Preckwinkle now wants to extend it to a three percent amusement tax for cable TV, bowling alleys, golf courses and other sports recreational activities.

     Preckwinkle reportedly said that an additional $20 million in taxes taken mostly from cable TV would close up a $100 million budgeting hole. The county would get more from the sales tax that would in turn go to pay for government worker pension funds, loans and capital road projects, Preckwinkle said.

     Bennett questioned the legality of the proposal. Representatives from Comcast and AT&T also asked the board for support before the vote. Both representatives said that raising the amusement tax would result in layoffs of their employees. Seniors living on fixed incomes would be hit the hardest with a hike in the amusement tax, Comcast and AT&T representatives said.

     Other local mayors in attendance who opposed an amusement tax hike were Robert Straz, of Palos Heights, Chuck Tokar, of Chicago Ridge, and Mary Werner, of Worth.

Bennett said that the board will be contacting the Cook County Board of Commissioners -- including Joan Murphy (6th) -- and informing them of their rejection of Preckwinkle’s proposal.

The mayors at the meeting were in general agreement that a three percent amusement sales tax hike would have a negative effect on their municipalities. This would be a burden for owners of bowling establishments and other recreation businesses. Bennett pointed out that the southwest suburbs have many golf courses.

“They think they are going to raise money but actually this will hurt business,” said Bennett.

In regards to the budget impasse on Rauner’s proposal to provide low-interest loans for municipalities, Bennett would like to see legislation passed that money for street repairs and other infrastructure be separate.

“Allow this money to flow to local governments,” said Bennett. “They have to take this off the table. Why hasn’t his money been set aside? This is our money and it should be put in a permanent escrow.”

The other mayors agreed and the board planned to contact local legislators about initiating a bill that would allow infrastructure funding to continue to municipalities when a state budget shutdown occurs.

     Bennett also reminded the board that the budget stalemate may result in the funding for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to run out on Nov. 30. John Alllen, associate legislative analyst for CMAP, said that federal government has been asked to intervene in getting CMAP funding for Illinois projects.

    “The feds have sent the letters to Illinois,” said Alllen. “Our transportation funds are in jeopardy. “The state has been warned numerous times. At the end of November, CMAP could be closed.”

     Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves also warned that if the budget shutdown continues, funding for the switches and other equipment for railroad lines could be in jeopardy after Dec. 31.

     “If it does not get approved, Metra and Amtrak will close down,” said Reaves. “This is a long process and we hope to get the funding for the equipment. Until the speaker and governor sit down and talk, nothing is going to happen.”

      The mayors agreed that the uproar from the public is not that great yet because programs that have currently been affected, like Early Childhood Care, does not affect everyone. Some of the mayors said they even would reluctantly agree to a property tax freeze if it can get negotiations moving.

     “You don’t grow government by shutting down government,” said Bennett. “We just got through a tough recession. Who is really going to get hurt? It’s people.”

Arrow damages mayor's optometry office

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn police are investigating a case of vandalism in which an arrow was shot through a glass door at the main entrance of Mayor Sandra Bury’s optometry office in the overnight hours between Oct. 18 and 19.

          The damage to the double-paned glass door of Complete Vision Care, 6209 W. 95th St., was discovered by a newspaper deliveryman, who called police at 4:48 a.m. Oct. 19 to report finding the glass shattered. The arrow was found lodged in a chair about 10 feet from the door, Bury said this week.

          When police called her to the scene, she said they were shocked to find that a steel-tipped arrow caused the damage.

          “Welcome to my world,” she said wryly.

          Asked whether she thought political opponents unhappy with her for one reason or another might be behind it, Bury, a first-term mayor, said she would rather not focus on that possibility.

          “I’m leaving the investigation up to the police. It is in their hands now, and they are taking it very seriously. They’re very good at their jobs,” she said.

          “I am just very relieved that no one was in the office, and no one was hurt. I’m hoping that it may have been kids playing in the back behind the parking lot who did it by accident,” she said. “Judging by the time it was done, whoever did it, didn’t want to cause any injuries.”

          “I employ 20 women, and the majority are mothers. They didn’t sign up for this,” said Bury, an optometrist whose practice is marking its 10th anniversary at that location.

          Security cameras were focused on the entrance to the optometry office, and Police Division Chief Randy Palmer said the tapes are being reviewed.

          Security cameras were focused on the entrance to the optometry shop, and police are reviewing what they recorded, Palmer said.

          According to reports, Palmer said a practice arrow was used, making it harder to track because practice arrows are not cut to fit certain bows. Therefore, it would be impossible to determine which store sold it.

          Rather than worrying about who might have shot the arrow, using a compound bow, Bury said she prefers to focus on all the support she has received since the incident happened.

          In addition to residents and village staff who expressed their support, she is thankful for everyone from the deliveryman who called police when he saw the damage, and stayed there until she arrived, to the glass company that made sure the damage would be repaired as soon as possible.

          “I was originally told that it could take 10 days to get the new glass delivered, but the (representative) drove to Indiana to pick up the glass himself,” she said.


Worth development plans are a hot topic

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

It was standing room only when nearly 70 people crowded into the Village Hall Board Room in Worth Oct. 21, to participate in an open house regarding future plans to enhance the area surrounding the Worth Metra station.

Presented by the village’s Economic Development Commission, chaired by Trustee Collen McElroy, in conjunction with the Chicago-based Farr Associates Consulting Group. The event was the first public workshop on the proposed project. McElroy said committee work has been underway in recent months with a number of commission meetings and interviews with local business and property owners to select members for upcoming Focus Groups.

Primarily, the open house was designed to present the concept of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project to residents while also getting feedback on what they envisioned for the future of Worth.

By definition, TOD projects are designed to find ways to improve rider access to public transportation, while attracting residential and commercial development to the area. Increased walkability in the area is the goal, which could draw restaurants and shops appealing to commuters.

Doug Farr, president and founding principal of Farr Associates, said that TOD plans are always about whether change is needed, or wanted. The evening’s program was geared to examine the feasibility of the project and whether or not Worth residents were in favor of it.

McElroy thanked the attendees for their show of support by attending the meeting. “We want to overcome the “It’s only Worth, what do you expect?” mentality. By being here, you are demonstrating that you are interested in the future of Worth,” she said.

The planned TOD project is a result of a $75,000 Regional Transportation Agency grant awarded to the village earlier this year. Funding for the $75,000 plan is made up of $40,000 in federal funds from the United Work Program, $20,000 from the RTA’s Community Planning program and $15,000 from the village.

In spite of an initial technological glitch at the beginning of the meeting, which delayed the presentation of a PowerPoint program, Farr kept the energy high in interactive exercises, which kept the crowded room attentive.

“Worth is a very special place. This kind of turnout is very unusual. It clearly indicates that you, the residents, care about this community,” Farr said. He added that in his many years of experience in working with municipalities, he had never seen such a large turnout for a program of this type.

“We are here tonight to get a sense of what you want for Worth and to help you see the full potential of the core area, including the Metra station, the Village Hall and the police and fire stations. We want to define priority areas for improvement.”

He sparked a discussion when he introduced the SWOT exercise, which is comprised of listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the community.

Interestingly, responses indicated 21 strengths, 15 weaknesses, eight opportunities and seven threats, as perceived by the audience. Listed among the strengths were: location, walkability, diversity, water tower recognition, the Water’s Edge Golf Club, schools, Krapil’s Restaurant and the Chieftain Pub.

Perceived weaknesses included: no town identity, divided by expressways, lack of commercial development, no destination points, ageing population, lack of good signage to identify businesses and no conformity of style for commercial development.

Some opportunities listed were: better coordination between schools and park districts to improve use of facilities and schedules, more communication between elected officials and civic organizations and beautification of village entryways.

Numbered among the threats to development in the community were: lack of major stores, competition from surrounding communities, lack of restaurants, Cook County property taxes and fear of change.

After a polling of the attendees, taken electronically by tabulation devices on which the audience could push buttons to register their responses, it seemed that the majority of people in the room did not want multi-family apartment buildings taller than three stories near the Metra station. The polling question had presented choices of three, four, five, or six stories for proposed multi-family buildings.

The polling indicated that while 90 percent of the audience lived in Worth, 59 percent used the Metra station and 32 percent had never used it.

Other polling questions revealed that there is little new housing construction in Worth, and that the key to improvement would be redevelopment.

Eighty percent of the group voted “No” to single family development in the core area, with a majority voting “Yes” for increased commercial development. On the matter of improvements to the municipal buildings in the core area, 41 percent voted “Yes” and 53 percent voted “No.”

Residents speaking up included Rick Landry, who responded to the complaint about lack of cooperation between the school district and the park district.

“It seems that the two groups could work something out to utilize the wonderful park facilities we have in Worth so that school activities could be held in the parks, or after-school activities could be coordinated,” said Landry. “If we can see the future differently, we can move ahead.”

Peggy Healy, who moved to Worth 11 years ago because of the small-town feeling of the community, said she was happy to be included in this discussion. “It was good to hear realistic options and information.”

David Daujatas said, “It was exciting to be here tonight. We heard a lot of good information and it was great to see the community coming together. It will be great to bring in some new blood.”

In a later conversation, McElroy said she was impressed with the turnout and the support of the community.

“I feel that the residents expressed very good points to consider in the future planning for the village. I think this long-range plan will open the dialog to the potential of Worth. It is important that the residents know that the board is listening.”

Farr also said he sensed hesitancy in the response of the attendees. “The turnout was excellent and people were truly engaged in the discussion and excited. However, it was unclear as to whether the proposed changes were feasible or if they were truly wanted.”

He added that the consensus of the room seemed to be that in order to attract young families to the area there needed to be changes made. “However, the polling we did indicated that the residents want more of what they have, in regard to the type of housing proposed at the Metra station.”

Farr said the meetings will continue with the Economic Development Commission and the planned focus groups. The next presentation scheduled for the public will be in March, 2016.

Mayors frustrated by budget impasse

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Local mayors have been less than enthusiastic about Gov. Rauner’s proposal to offer loans to municipalities to assist them financially since the budget impasse began in June.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said Rauner’s low-interest loan proposal is peculiar at best

“It’s like going to a bank and taking out money and the bank charges you for a loan,” said Bennett, who has been mayor of Palos Hills for 35 years. “You know because of the impasse, 911 emergency, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue has been frozen by the state.

“If this continues, we are going to have to look for other resources for revenue,” added Bennett.

Rauner’s proposal is in response to the Democrats passing a bill that would allow the release of dollars being withheld by the state for local programs. Democratic officials said that they want the revenue sent to local municipalities to fund programs.

Local mayors have said the impasse should have no effect on the 911 emergency funds, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue. However, these officials said they have not received any revenue since the impasse began.

“I can’t understand it,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar. “Compromise is what it’s all about. These guys down in Springfield have been doing this for a long time. You would think somehow they could come up with a compromise. But there seems to be no sense of urgency. It’s kind of scary.”

Tokar said that annually the village would have received $400,000 at this time of the year from the motor fuel tax. But since the budget impasse, Chicago Ridge has only seen $193,000.

“We are at 50 percent of where we should be,” said Tokar. “The motor fuel tax is important. It pays for street improvements. And with the past couple of winters we have had, that is important.”

Video gaming does not bring in as much revenue but Tokar said the village has not received any funds since June, when the impasse began. He is concerned about the state taking income tax money that should go for the village. He added that there is about a five-month lag on income tax revenue. However, if the impasses continues into the new year, the income tax revenue could become a target of the state, Tokar said.

“It’s just not right,” he said.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner is looking at ideas to bring in more development for her village. She said the budget impasse is not helping in that regard. Funds from the motor fuel tax and video gaming have been frozen since the impasse began.

“I think at this point, the funding should go through for video gaming and the motor fuel tax,” said Werner. “Video gaming and MFT funds have nothing to do with the Illinois budget.”

Werner is not optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon.

“With elections coming up next year, no one wants to make a move,” she said. “It sounds like nothing is going to happen until next year.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said that his village may be in better shape right now than other municipalities. However, there are limits. He recalls when Rauner approached the village in the spring to encourage the local government to embrace his five-point plan to jumpstart the economy. Critics have said that Rauner’s plan, the “Turnaround Agenda,” also wants to make restrictions on unions and lower salaries of employees.

“There were a lot of requests earlier this year,” Sexton said. “But it was kind of like all or nothing.”

Sexton added that while the impasse is not affecting the village right now, problems will arise if the stalemate continues into next year.

“Politics is the art of compromise,” said Sexton. “If they would just sit down and talk, they might find out they have more in common than they thought.”

Tokar agrees with that assessment.

“It is mind boggling,” he said. “You would think the governor and the speaker could go out to dinner. There are a lot of good restaurants in Springfield. They should be able to talk and figure this out.”