Let’s Make A Deal: The Higgins Corridor Version


From what we’ve seen in Park Ridge and some other suburbs we have come to the conclusion that government bureaucrats are pretty inept, if not totally clueless, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of private real estate development.  And for the most part, the elected officials don’t seem measurably better. 

Unfortunately for us taxpayers who foot the bills, that doesn’t stop them from pretending to understand development and throwing our money at it.  That’s why some of those bureaucrats and elected officials from the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission will meet tonight (7:30 at City Hall) to kick off what the City has already started hyping as the “Higgins Corridor” redevelopment – and what already has the appearance of another one of those “we’ll get our money back in 10-20 years” boondoggles. 

Tonight’s featured dog-and-pony show will be the “Higgins Road Corridor: Findings Report” [.PDF] by Camiros, Ltd. (“Camiros”) and Valerie S. Kretchmer Associates, Inc. (“Kretchmer”), who were retained by the City to the tune of $50,000 ($25,000 of which appears to have come from a matching state grant obtained by State Sen. Dan Kotowski) to help prepare a “plan” for the approximately 30-acre stretch of Higgins Road between Dee on the west and Canfield on the east.  And perhaps because the City has hired Kretchmer in the past – she was paid to come up with reasons to fill the Library Block with retail – she has also thrown in a separate “Market Assessment for the Higgins Road Corridor.” [.PDF]

If you have a few minutes you might actually want to take a look at these two documents on the City’s website, if only to see how little real substance you get for $50,000 these days: A lot of canned data, the same map reproduced several times only with different colored areas, and some wishy-washy opinions that seem only slightly more believable than a tea-leaf reading. 

What these reports amount to, as we see it, are a sales pitch for Mr. K’s Garden Center (2.2 acres) and, to a lesser degree, the former Budget-Rent-A-Car site (.73 acres).  Well, not exactly a sales pitch – more like a buying pitch that will ultimately become an argument for the City’s throwing a lot of money in the direction of the owners of those two properties, either by buying those properties outright (can you say “Bredemann”?) or by “facilitating” their sale with taxpayer dollars (can you say “Napleton”?).

Interestingly enough, neither Camiros nor Kretchmer identified any real impediments to private developers purchasing one or more parcels in the Corridor and formulating their own development plan that could be presented to the Council for approval.  After all, no matter what the City thinks or does, it’s going to be the developers putting up the cash who will ultimately call the tune on any Higgins Corridor redevelopment, just like it was PRC who called the tune on Uptown’s Target Area II and Park Ridge 2004 LLC who did the same with Executive Office Plaza.

So why did we pay $50,000 for the Study?

Because the City’s bureaucrats, Mayor Frimark, and his Alderpuppets all need “cover” for any new giveaways to developers, especially in view of the flak that they’ve been catching over the recent zoning giveaway at Executive Office Plaza and the potential $2.4 Million giveaway to Napleton.  So they order up some reports and opinions from bought-and-paid-for “experts” and hope that all of us dumb taxpayers will be dazzled by such insights as that the Higgins Corridor “is heavily trafficked and congested during rush hour,” and that one of its attractive qualities is “its access to the CTA’s Blue Line Train at Cumberland Avenue, which travels from Chicago to O’Hare Airport” (Camiros report, at page 12).  Wow!

We don’t know whether Camiros is providing the dog and Kretchmer the pony, or vice versa.  But we’ve seen this movie before with Uptown Redevelopment, only with a different group of animal trainers in the starring roles.  And as best as we can tell from the questionable information the City has made available about Uptown, we’re still years away from even achieving a positive cash flow on that project, and many more years away from retiring the debt we undertook to sell Uptown to PRC.

But tonight’s meeting will be yet another sign to the development community that Park Ridge is open for business.  Mayor Frimark’s already wearing his Monty Hall “Let’s Make A Deal” jacket, and Economic Development Director Kim Uhlig is an acceptable stand-in for “the lovely Carol Merrill.”

Too bad it’s our tax dollars behind Door Nos. 1, 2 and 3.