By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
The bad news is that the vacancy rate in downtown businesses is about 15 percent. The good news is the Downtown Neighborhood Association has been pushing hard to improve Elgin's Center City and has been logging some successes along the way, the agency reported to the City Council on Wednesday.
DNA Executive Director Tonya Hudson said on Thursday that the downtown area's vacancy rate stood about 8 percent in 2007, when the city's massive infrastructure replacement program was in full swing and just before the Great Recession hit in 2008.
That means there is about 92,000 square feet of available space in the heart of Elgin today, she said.
But, as Hudson reported to the City Council on Wednesday evening, the DNA has been very active in its attempts to change negative perceptions of Elgin's Center City, and is recording successes in the area of economic development, both in terms of retaining existing businesses and drawing in new ones.
Hudson said the agency's economic development efforts have paid dividends.
The DNA, she said, worked with 21 new business prospects last year; 12 relocated or opened a new business in the downtown. The include, she said,:
• 2nd District Appellate State Defenders Office
• FutureLink IT Data Movement & Management (purchased property)
• TradeServe Inc.
• Gentle Sage (doing business as Ravenheart Coffee) (new ownership)
• Clock Tower Plaza Laundromat
• Crucial Cuts Barber Shop
• JVS Chicago
• Fadez & Bladez Barber Shop
• Divine Touch Salon by Jonathon Hidalgo
• NWC Engineering (purchased property)
• Elgin Home Care
• Midwest Design Group.
One of those businesses she highlighted as a "case in point" in terms of the DNA's ability to function as an economic development arm for the Center City.
FutureLink IT came to Elgin from Carol Stream. That move initially began as a contact the firm made with the city. Hudson explained that FutureLink IT was directed to the DNA by the city in January 2010.
The agency set up a property tour based on FutureLink's specifications. That eventually led to FutureLink purchasing the old Leath Furniture building, 164-166 E. Chicago St., which had been in receivership since 2000. FutureLink brought 14 full-time, high-tech jobs into the Center City. In addition, Hudson pointed out, there is the potential of attracting additional high-tech tenants to the same building, which had been retrofitted for high-tech office use by the previous owner. FutureLink IT's owners started a new company, Leath Partners LLC, to acquire and manage the property in July 2010 – FutureLink IT was their first tenant. The DNA assisted in efforts that eventually secured a new tenant with four full-time employees.
Other efforts by the DNA have worked hand in hand, she told the council, outlining a list of DNA-sponsored or partnered activities designed to draw people into the area and aiming to create and "Alive Downtown." She cited the July Fourth parade, which had 2,500 participants and drew in 16,000 attendees. That event was also sponsored by the city and Sherman Health. The Harvest Market, held on Thursdays from June through October, drew in crowds of 200 to 300 people each week, she said. That event was also sponsored by Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.
She also pointed to a number of other events and noted the crowds each one drew into the downtown area, culminating with the annual Window Wonderland display, also sponsored by Provena Saint Joseph Hospital. That event alone drew 1,000 people into the Center City area, she said.
One of the events she stressed was the Next Wave Art Salon, which brought in 110 artists and more than 1,000 attendees and complemented the city's continuing efforts to establish Elgin as a cultural center.
But events are not all the DNA has been up to, Hudson said, rattling off a list of promotional and marketing efforts, including the use of social media, to get the word out about Elgin merchants and what they offer.
Hudson also presented the council with information about the agency's efforts to walk businesses through the city grants programs, permitting processes.
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump