Business-Unfriendly, Or Just Not Business’ Patsy?


Is Park Ridge business-unfriendly? 

We’ve heard such accusations over the past decade or so, both about the City’s ordinances and about the less-than-motivated way some members of City Staff – or, at least, some former City Staff members – respond to the desires of certain businesses and prospective businesses. 

At the same time, we have seen “business friendly” but just plain stupid City initiatives (like the facade improvement program) waste hundreds of thousands of dollars with little measurable return on investment. 

So we found it somewhat instructive to read a couple of recent letters to the editor in the Park Ridge Journal that  criticized City Hall’s anti-business attitude: “A Perfect Fit For Uptown,” by John McGinnis (8/19/11), and “Building Sits Vacant While Offers Come And Go,” by Mike and Maribeth Carroll (8/24/11).  Both of those letters, perhaps not so coincidentally, focused on the former Pioneer Press office building at 130 S. Prospect, which the Carrolls own and which has been vacant ever since Pioneer Press broke camp several years ago.

Let’s start with the McGinnis opus, which blames “city officials” for “killing the historic Uptown shopping district of Park Ridge.”  McGinnis’ postmortem is based on his assertion that City Hall rejected not one but two “upscale businesses” that were interested in that same Prospect address. 

The first, an unidentified “progressive health club” (compared to a “regressive” one?) was purportedly rejected because of “not enough parking” and the property “not [being] zoned for a health club” even though (according to McGinnis) it’s “the perfect location for a health club” – especially for someone like him who claims he “has to travel quite a distance to find a health club close to home.” 

Paging Yogi Berra!

The second of McGinnis’ prospects for Prospect was a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, which he claims was rejected because of insufficient parking and “limited liquor licenses” and which he brands collectively as “irresponsible zoning hindrances.”  His solution: “Why doesn’t the city purchase or lease one of these [nearby parking] lots to help boost local business?”

Hey, Mr. McGinnis!  Did you ever think of asking the Carrolls and the other building and/or business owners in that area why they don’t purchase or lease one of those lots to help boost their own business, instead of looking for more handouts from the City, a/k/a the taxpayers? 

The City already leases parking space in that vicinity, including the Scharringhausen lot at 20 S. Fairview that Robert Ryan did his best to get the City to buy for $700,000-plus while he was 5th Ward alderman from 2007-11.  Maybe the Scharringhausens would be wiling to chip in that lot as their share of a joint venture parking deck to serve the existing businesses in that part of town and to attract new ones, assuming parking is an attraction and not just an excuse.

The Carrolls’ letter was partially an “us too” to McGinnis’ health club/restaurant anecdote, but with a kicker that raises at least one red flag. 

The Carrolls claim that the City “dismissed any potential tenants related to general office and the medical industry…even though there’s a dentist on one side of the building and Resurrection Medical Group on the other”; and two buildings owned by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists further down that block.  And they further complain that their inquiries to Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller about “what kind of business is allowed” in 130 S. Prospect have gone unanswered, while she has told them that chances of a zoning variance “were very slim.”

We don’t know if what McGinnis and the Carrolls wrote is factually accurate or not.  But, frankly, it sounds a little soft and squishy to us, with more un-named “potential tenants” that don’t readily lend themselves to independent verification.   

Nevertheless, it does call into question whether City Staff – in this case, the Deputy City Mgr. whose job description includes economic development – is asleep at the wheel, if not actively discouraging business development.

We would hope that, if McGinnis’ and the Carrolls’ anecdotes are true and they are sincere about their concern for the Uptown business district, they will bring these matters formally to the City Council – via either Ald. DiPietro’s Policy & Procedures Committee, or Ald. Knight’s Finance & Budget Committee – so these matters can get a proper public airing.  But that means naming names other than just Lettuce Entertain You.

Only a few years ago a group of citizens and some well-paid consultants totally rewrote the City’s zoning ordinance, reportedly to reflect current economic reality and to enhance, within reason, the City’s ability to compete with neighboring communities for desirable businesses.  If that effort produced a hostile business climate that is inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the City’s taxpayers, then it’s time for the City to acknowledge that and go about correcting the situation.

But if, on the other hand, these complaints are just hot air from special interests who want to off-load some of the risks and expense of doing business in Park Ridge on the City and its taxpayers, we should find that out sooner rather than later, too.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

of course City staff wants to do as little as possible about economic devleopment: They get their raises regardless; services are what’s cut when revenues aren’t up to par.The only exception was Kim Uhlig who actually got a good number of shops and grants for Pekin and other towns she worked for, and got a few for us, too, before the ignorant City management and elected officials decided it was best left to amateurs such as the old Econ Development group run by former Mayor Howard and his cronies. That “Taste without taste” was all about the Sharringhausen parking lot deal-type effort. And now that’s what we’re back to. Economic development, like advertising, takes more than flair or connections. But we’d rather give the job to a City staff attorney who’s already over her skis than pay a pro. So, let’s enjoy all the money we’ve saved on that salary and don’t think about the nonsense that has replaced it, like the goofy letters you cite here. I know you don’t agree because Mayor Dave didn’t see Kim’s value, but I know, unless some posteriors running blogs in town, you are fair-minded and will print this.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not sure we followed every bit of this, but “the old Econ Development group run by former Mayor Howard and his cronies” for a number of years was (not unexpectedly, given its composition) a bust, even though it cost the City around $80,000 a year as we recall. Ms. Uhlig, whose retention we believe Mayor Schmidt actually supported (but who was axed by City Mgr. Hock) cost the City over $100,000 per year and, frankly, we didn’t see a commensurate amount of new development-based revenues to the City.

We still believe what we have repeatedly articulated in the past: unless the City wants to mindlessly underwrite rents, taxes, facades, parking decks, etc. to entice new businesses into town or existing ones to stay, Park Ridge is getting and will continue to get the development it deserves, given the location and character of the community.

Parking rules, traffic flow studies, and most of all the ever changing, slow moving, interpretations of the zoning codes hamper business’ ability to function in this town. We don’t neccesarily need handouts. We do need a clear, easy, and guided path for businesses to open and operate in town.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, yeah, yeah…yada, yada, yada. What specific “parking rules,” “traffic flow studies” and “ever changing, slow moving, interpretations” are you referring to?

And while you’re at it, name 3 businesses which seriously pursued opening in Park Ridge in the past 3 years that didn’t open solely because of problems with the City – and don’t waste one on O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, which received approval for the City’s first-ever 2:00 a.m. liquor license but bailed after soil contamination issues arose with its first choice of sites (the former Walter’s restaurant).

Enough anecdotes. What business wants into Park Ridge that CAN’T get in, and why?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s exactly the right question.

It is not that businesses CAN’T do business in Park Ridge. It is that they DON’T WANT TO.

Example: Big Ten .

Are we suggesting that clarity and swiftness in the bureucratic process already exists, or is unnecessary? It may be anecdotal, but I’ve heard otherwise, and I know that isn’t good for business. Another upside, clarity and swiftness are inexpensive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe we missed it, but we couldn’t find anything in the story you linked to that suggests the Big 10(12) is leaving Park Ridge because of problems with either the “clarity” or the “swiftness” of the City’s bureaucracy or ordinances.

You know who the city is very business friendly towards?? LAWYERS!!! Read the HA. The legal budget went up by 89K this year after they spent 106K more than they budget last year. You would think these lawyers would have the decency to take a store front office here in town.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t need no stinking law offices. Remember, we need RETAIL!

Over the past few years what we have heard over and over and over and over….with regards the the “unfriendly” complaint seems to be geographically connected the the “UPTOWN” area. I wonder why that is.

I believe that to open, operate and main a business one would actually have a plan. A business plan to be more specific. One which includes a little fore thinking regarding things like….
The cost of opening a business which includes but is not limited to,SIGNS, and the possiblility of municipal requirements, which may also need a set aside of money. This may include parking/traffic studies and or the variance process.

All things that should be part of the cost of opening and doing business. However it seems that businesses feel that they should be allowed to open at no cost to them. Because that’s just unfriendly.

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