“PROUD”? Of What?


We here at PublicWatchdog are fans of Park Ridge.  We appreciate its character as a quiet, predominantly single-family home, bedroom suburb of Chicago conveniently located to almost anything a person could need or want.  And we get the impression that most of the people who live here feel the same way.

Which is why we continue to be amazed at how a relatively small group of people seem so intent on making significant changes to the small-town character and feel our community – with little or no accountability to the residents.  And we’re even more amazed at how they seem to be getting away with it.

It has been several years since a number of our local movers and shakers, many of whom are business owners and real estate professionals with economic interests in commercial property in town, decided that they were tired of the traditional Park Ridge and embarked on an Uptown Redevelopment (“UR”) plan to change the face and the character of the Uptown area. 

They baited us with talk about making Uptown a retail mecca, but they immediately switched us into helping the developers pick the “low-hanging fruit” – building condos and townhouses – while throwing in only enough retail to make things look legit.  After baiting us with rumors of big-name retailers like Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods, The Gap, Ann Taylor and Crate & Barrel, they smoothly switched us to lower-profile brands like Trader Joe’s, Chico’s and Joseph A. Banks.  Meanwhile, big-time retailer interest was so lacking that 15,000 square feet of retail space was redesigned into more condos. 

With such an inauspicious beginning to this redevelopment, one might expect that adopting a wait-and-see attitude as to further development would be the most prudent approach.  But now comes word that some of those same movers and shakers who gave us Target Area II have formed a new organization in town that is devoting its efforts to pushing for even more – and faster – redevelopment. 

Calling itself Park Ridge Organization for Uptown Development, or “PROUD,” it is billed as a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization – although it already has received a substantial amount of taxpayer support by virtue of the City’s Economic Development Director, Kim Uhlig, having spent a great deal of her time during October assisting PROUD in its organization and start-up.

In a recent letter to the Herald-Advocate (“Help PROUD unify area businesses here,” Nov. 1 – PDF), local dentist Ross Rubino – not surprisingly, an Uptown commercial property owner – touted PROUD as “an important advocate for change” in response to what he called the “glacial pace” of UR.  He identified PROUD’s goals as making Uptown “as vibrant and meaningful…as possible” by promoting redevelopment that will “maintain the basic feel of our community” while “enhancing our considerable assets.” 

“Vibrant” has been the main UR buzzword since Day One, although not even UR’s biggest cheerleaders have ever explained exactly what it means in connection with our unique community.  Does “vibrant” mean 20% more people milling around the streets at night?  Or a 2:00 a.m. jazz club on Prospect?  Or 35% more businesses staying open past 8:00 p.m. on week nights?  Nobody seems willing to say.

The same goes for spurring redevelopment that will “maintain the basic feel of our community.”  Nobody is explaining how the “basic feel” of Uptown is being “maintained” by the addition of those hulking 4-story buildings in Target Area II that dwarf both the neighboring buildings (even Summit Square retirement home) and the structures formerly on those sites.

And what specifically are “our considerable assets” that are being enhanced by all this development?  Park Ridge’s primary “asset” has always been its location – comfortably close to both the Loop and O’Hare Airport, not too far from Lake Michigan, with relatively convenient access to the Tri-State and major shopping venues like Old Orchard, Northbrook Court, Woodfield Mall and Oakbrook Court.  Has the new development somehow changed our location when we weren’t looking?  

According to Rubino, PROUD is also trotting out the “more dining, shopping, and event options in our Uptown area” party line – the same tactic that was used to sell UR to us several years ago.  But PROUD has an extra card up its sleeve: The prospect of Park Ridge signing onto the “Main Street” redevelopment program [PDF], which ostensibly is designed for historic preservation of traditional business districts.  Neither Rubino nor PROUD are saying, however, what “unique [Uptown] qualities” and “historic [Uptown] buildings” deserve to be enhanced and preserved through the “Main Street” program.

We support reasonable development that both preserves and enhances the unique character of our community.  But the current Target Area II development eliminated rather than “preserved” what was on that site; and we won’t be able to tell whether it enhances our community until it is completed and our residents get an opportunity to more readily judge for themselves whether the results are attractive enough and economically successful enough to justify more of the same.

For those reasons alone, any rush toward new development deals would be foolish.  And being foolish is certainly nothing to be PROUD of.

15 comments so far

I agree. I’ve lived in Park Ridge for almost 20 years and thought that it had more of a small town feel than the neighboring towns because it wasn’t so commercial and developed. Those new buildings on Touhy stick out like a sore thumb. Are they going to reduce our taxes?

The new buildings are a bit large for their surroundings, but I’m more concerned about how much the city contributed to that development and how long it will take before we recoup our investment.

In Mr. Rubino’s letter that posted, he said that we have an Economic Development commission. But I thought that in PublicWatchdog’s last article, you said that we don’t have an Economic Development commission any longer. So do we or don’t we?

The Illinois Secretary of State’s records show that the Economic Development CORPORATION was voluntarily dissolved as of August 1, 2005, although other information available to us indicates that it actually ceased doing business at the end of 2004.

Are the EDC brothers may be putting the band back together?

Who are “the EDC brothers”? I assume you mean former EDC board members. I remember Frimark, John Kerin (former 4th Ward alderman?), Owen Hayes, Robert Ryan, Bill Irvine (former alderman?), Harry O’Brien (Chamber), Frank Bartolone (former 7th Ward alderman), Dan Hogan (Dentist and “Yes/Yes” chair), Don Sebastian (Realtor), Chris Mahaffey (Committee of associations?) and Marilyn Provencher, but there have to be a lot more over the 10 years it was in existence.

Sure looks like Park Ridge has its own version of “the usual suspects” that Inspector Renault wanted rounded up in “Casablanca.”

Who writes this stuff? Maybe you should educate yourself on what exactly PROUD is and get your facts straight. Rubino is not even on the committee. The PROUD organization was started by local business owners to improve the town, from events, to facades, to general promotion. Take a look at what a Main Street organization does first before you start talking about something you have no business speaking on. It is people like you who give this town a bad name and put a stop to any positive change.

We did read through all of the Main Street material and, in our opinion, it reads like a cross between the script for the movie “Pleasantville” and an Amway business plan. But we included a pdf of the most informative portions in the article for the convenience of our readers, so that they could judge for themselves.

As for the PROUD folks, we must confess to a healthy skepticism of any and all self-appointed, self-styled saviors of Park Ridge – especially ones who suggest, with no supporting facts, that “this town” has a “bad name.”

But we encourage you to continue sharing your views.

To Anonymous above,

Who the hell are you to say that anyone does or does not have business to speak on a local issue?

If Mr. Rubino isn’t on the committee why is he their spokesman? Why is he the one writing letters to the papers?

I read Mr. Rubino’s letter in the paper and thought it was more or the same drivel of the build!-build!-build! sort this community has had shoved down its throat for the last decade.

I also read the Main Street program documents provided here and thought it sounds very much like the same sort of drivel that consultants always try to pass off.

Maybe it is you who needs to educate yourself, because you come across as very arrogant and obnoxious.

Herer’s what I’m wondering?

Why is it now all these changes are happening?

And why has it taken so long for this to occur?

I use to look though old newspaers, especially going back to the 60’s where various big projects were proposed and never went through because there were either eough people on the town council and or residents who spoke strongly against it.

What went wrong?

I might know and perhaps it might of had something to do with the homeowners party disolving but what else?

Oh and another thing is for all those who are behind these changes why did they even bother to move here?

Espeically our Mayor who’s lived here 36 years or anyone else who’s lived here for such a long time.

I generally try not to always be against such changes but the fact the redevelopment is so big and all the traffic that will come along with it makes me against it as many here are.

Maybe that’s partly why so many are moving so far from Chicago’s inner burbs.

As best as we can tell, The new development is simply about money: Money to be made by people who have owned property in Park Ridge for years and have decided to finally cash out; money to be made by speculators who have purchased certain key properties with the expectation of making a shorter-term profit (such as Owen Hayes and the 515 Busse property in 2004, from which he stood to make $200,000 on a $950,000 “investment” within a matter of a few months – see “515 Busse Highway – The Park Ridge Police Station That Almost Was” PublicWatchdog, 11/15/07), and money to be made by the developers themselves.

Of course, a better understanding of the situation could be had if we could find out the true owners of all those properties located in key areas around town and that are held in land trusts, limited liability companies, and other entities that conceal the identities of the true owners. Even the Hayes deal might not have been discovered if not for some good investigative reporting by a former editor of The Bugle newspaper.

But now comes word that some of those same movers and shakers who gave us Target Area II have formed a new organization in town that is devoting its efforts to pushing for even more – and faster – redevelopment.

You seem to be in the know about who is involved. Could you identify them for us?

[…] We have previously expressed doubts about the need, or even the potential benefit, of this organization. (‘Proud? Of What?’ ) We also wonder why the City’s development department and the Chamber of Commerce can’t – or won’t – do the things PROUD sees as its mission.  PROUD official Dr. Keith Berndtson says that PROUD is “committed to taking three nickels and trying to rub them into a quarter.”  We’ve got no problem with that, so long as the rest of that quarter doesn’t get picked from the taxpayers’ pockets.     […]

I was Uptown yesterday and in a couple of place.

1. Baked By Betsy in wich I didn’t inquire her thought of the matter.

2. Hill Hobby Shop. which I just found out they’re moving. They didn’t say where and so far they have not made an offiical announcement. Though the owner mentioned something about the block that they’re on also being redeveloped which suprised me because so far I’ve never heard anything on it so far.

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