Spot Check: Let's Make a Deal - The VC Jump Starts the Downtown Master Plan?

Winnetka’s own candidate for "Desperate Landscapes" is about to get a makeover. And the terms “public-private partnership” and “TIF” are about to get a workout. Vroom-vroom, Fred's Garage.


Fred's Garage, at the corner of Spruce and Chestnut, has been behind chain link for the past year. The developer was planning to spend $63,000 on pots, plants, and curb cuts when he found out the Village was going to do pretty much the same - just not right now, and not just there.

Instead, on tap for 2017 was $370,000 of signs, bike racks, parklets and a post office site evaluation - early action items from the Downtown Master Plan. Nevertheless, the developer said "Let's chat." To which the VC replied, "Hmmm."

Open Wide, Gift Horse

In the DMP, but on the shelf for now, was a $482,000 reno of that entire block - infrastructure and streetscape - from Spruce south to the alley, both sides.

On March 7th, Team Winnetka wondered what would happen if it stuck a pin in the early action items, took that $370,000 and the developer's $63,000, found a source for the remaining $49,000, and showed residents and future developers what downtown revitalization really looks like. Years ahead of schedule.

Trustee-on-trustee ensued. Some raised eyebrows, others leaned in.

Headnods -

  • The project could show quick results while waiting for One Winnetka's part of the streetscape plan to get going.
  • The project's per-unit-cost data could help future developers and the Village bid better.
  • Other people’s money could help get done what was on the books anyway.
  • The corner wouldn't need to be redone to DMP specs later.
  • The VC would DIY the project, shaving bucks from Teska's management fee.

Back-and-forths -

  • Would going off-script risk action items?
  • Would piece-mealing make rollout of the Master Plan harder?
  • Would the payback be worth changing course?
  • Would this set a too-interesting precedent?
  • Would adjacent properties want in?
  • Does the project go far enough?
  • Could we get more for our money?
  • Can it be done during this construction cycle?
  • Can their vision and our vision find happiness?

Spring Clean-Up

Over the next several weeks, the VC will look at financing options, review the old "don't-call-it-a-streetscape plan" and possibly have a sit-down with its authors, the Lakota Group, (of the Hubbard Woods Park, Duke Childs Field, and Lakefront renos) to see if there's any "there" still there. And find out if any other retailers want in. Without losing sight of those bike racks, parklets, signs and Post Office eval. Oh, and staff will keep the convo going with the developer. Same page on notice.

“Financing Options?”

Five of them were proposed, one was discussed. The rest are in the pocket in case the TIF doesn’t win the toss. Think special service areas, home rule sales tax, business district designation, and land write-downs, with fund-raising a distant 5th.

What's a TIF?

Tax Increment Financing. Controversial. Uses the increased taxes from the increased value of a development to pay for the cost of developing property. No new taxes, no bonds, no dipping into reserves. Sweet if property increases in value. Urban development economic death-spiral if it doesn't. And then there's a little issue of who gets the cash if it pays off early and becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

How Would Winnetka TIF?

Step 1: Select a consultant to tell us if what the VC wants to do can be legally financed by a TIF. Check

Step 2: If doable, find out if there's still a taste for TIFs.

Step 3: Go, no go. If no go, special service areas and home rule sales tax are up next. Dateline: "early this summer." Pricetag: $30-50,000.

Many Eyes on the Prize

That bocce court in Hubbard Woods? Look across the street. Goodbye, Hubbard Woods Motors. Buongiorno, Mino's Italian Ristorante. Then there are the acquisitive Hoffmanns who think Winnetka's waaay overdue for a face-lift. And our new full-time Economic Development Coordinator whose job is to BFF future Winnetka businesses. This "partnership," and a TIF might make all of their lives a lot more interesting. Ours, too.

PS: Parklets (color us curious, too)

Less park, more bike racks on steroids - for humans. Particularly for humans under the age of 40. It's a thing with urban planners right now. Trades parking spaces for public places. Economics vs demographics. Will make for interesting convos. Picture yourself parked here, here, and here.

Enough about Them - What about You?

  • If you've read this far, you'll probably be interested in the Village's eDevelopment newsletter. We should have told you about this sooner. Our bad.
  • Want more DMP? Subscribe to the Village's eWinnetka, and bookmark the Calendar and Agenda Materials for what will be discussed when.
  • Want more amperage? The Winnetka Music Festival. Sign up for their newsletter and get ready to rock out. Winnetka gets more interesting every day. We promise to keep you informed.

Spot Check: The Downtown Master Plan - What Kind of a Big Deal is This?

Oh, way more than street signs, bike racks, and parklets. 

One Winnetka - now The WINN - is just the beginning. Winnetka has several more parcels ripe for development. Two - one in Hubbard Woods and another in West Elm - are “in flight” even as we speak.  And then there's that Post Office site.

If the Village Council gets the DMP right, it will be able to manage expectations, save money, increase revenues and make good on its promise to balance “vibrancy” with “Village ambiance.”  [:30] 

If it gets it wrong, it will lock the Village in a divisive game of “where’s mine” for decades to come.

It’s that kind of a Big Deal.

And the Trustees know it. That Study Session on January 10th? That was them hitting full stop/hard return. An Ordinance on the proposed 5-person Implementation Task Force, and a $450K Early Action Plan was headed straight for the January 17th Agenda Packet. Whereases, motion, second, vote, and adjourn. A good day for street signs, bike racks, and parklets.

Low-Hanging Fruit was, Well…Too Low.

 So the Trustees stuck a pin in it and went back to the table. [1:30:30]

  • Trustee Lanphier: Wants the Implementation Task Force plus two. Thinks involving the Advisory Boards is a good idea since they know our zoning laws and why the Village looks like it does in the first place. 
  • Trustee Rintz: Cautions that the original DMP was big picture, declares it's drill-down time. Thinks Streetscape - the plan and the details - could jump-start the DMP, saving time and money if there's any "there" there.
  • Trustee Myers: Me-too's the Streetscape revisit, wishes he'd known more about it sooner. Wants to Goldilocks the size of the Task Force, and thinks it can help the Council move forward faster. All it needs is the right direction.
  • Trustee Ziv: Says it's not that complicated, has had enough meetings. Thinks Teska can help the Task Force, and doesn't see that much work left.
  • Trustee Cripe: Thinks Job #1 is to validate the Plan and prioritize. Wants more info on the C-1 and C-2 Retail Overlay Districtswhat kinds of businesses are allowed there right now, and the permitting process. Let's start with reviewing special use permits.

Cue Revised Scope of Work.

And kind of in this order...

  • Broaden the task force to add “a few” at-large members. Job 1: Review the "Downtown Physical Infrastructure Plan,” AKA Streetscape. TBD 3-4 months.
  • Multi-task. Schedule Council Study Sessions on zoning (code for Retail Overlay Districts including a list of permitted and special uses) and on streamlining the Planned Development Process.
  • Explore financing options. Big Deals need Big Bucks. On the table, taxes to TIFs and everything in between.
  • Provide Advisory Board Commissioner training. Start from scratch – how to hold meetings, parliamentary procedures, etc. - or train them to implement the Plan? TBD. Way down the list, but on everybody's mind.

In the meantime, Channel the Trustees.

Get smart. Check out - 

  • Our recent zoning changes.
  • Winnetka's Retail Overlay Districts and whyNorthbrook’s thinkin’ it wants more retail overlay. 
  • Special uses, exceptions. It's been a long time since The Plan Commission saw a special use request it didn't like, A reason to reduce Village oversight, or temporary economic expediency? Rather than reduce the number and type of uses, Wilmette, maintains control by increasing the number of commercial zones to 9, so that the rght business is in the right place. 
  • TIFs and other ways communities pay for stuff like this. Warning: they’re controversial. But with Winnetka’s zero-based budgeting and balanced budget on the books, the VC will check ‘em out.
  • The 2009 Streetscape Plan. Relevant? Scalable? 
  • Jurisdictional TransfersWilmette did it. So did Kenilworth. And both got the RTA to help fund it. Our ability to control our share of Green Bay and Sheridan roads makes the job of creating a consistent downtown just that much easier. The VC wants to discuss.
  • Our neighbors. Glencoe is patting itself on the back for its recent “tune-up,” and Wilmette's residents and businesses are lovin' the results of its newly-minted DMP.
  • Pay attention to communities you like and why they work for you. Share with your Trustees.

Stay smart.

Connect. Contact the Trustee of your choice with smart questions and insights. They'll thank you, trust us.