City sees Ravinia district as ‘hidden treasure’
Baker Boys Bakery co-owners Pete Rauser (center) and Jordan Rappaport (left) work on items for customers on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, at the business in Highland Park. On the right is employee Matt Korman. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 30, 2012 3:00PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Efforts to revitalize the Ravinia Business District along Roger Williams Avenue were slowed by the economic downturn, but are now starting to take shape.
The recession hit shortly after the city of Highland Park created the Ravinia Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in 2005 to generate funds for public improvements and prevent the area from becoming blighted.
The Ravinia Business District Advisory Task Force and the Hitchcock Design Group Monday provided a preview of their ideas for improving the streetscape and creating a distinct brand for the district, which extends along Roger Williams Avenue from Green Bay Road east to Judson Avenue.
The plans also will be presented during a second open house at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5 in the council chamber of city hall, 1707 St. Johns Ave. Their study, conducted with Nicholas Associates and Strand Associates, also is aimed at quantifying the long-term costs of streetscaping and the dollars needed for underground utility improvements.
A marketing study by the Community Land Use and Economics Group in late 2009 concluded that given the changing nature of retailing, the district should provide a mix of conveniences for residents in the immediate area and reach out to a broader customer base.
“The two strategies (the consultants) felt were really important were to continue to encourage the retailing that is important to residents in the city and, on top of that, to reach out to a broader area and encourage a more regional dining and entertainment cluster that will attract folks from outside the city,” said Rick Hitchcock, of the Hitchcock Design Group.
As envisioned, the district would acknowledge its early history as an arts colony and offer a contemporary mix of shops and restaurants “with an artsy, unexpected element of surprise and discovery,” according to the streetscaping and branding study.
Hitchcock said the goal is to create a vibrant business district that reaps economic returns to the city.
“We want to make sure that whatever the community invests today, you are getting a good return on your investment five or 10 years down the road,” he said.
The Ravinia Business District is the city’s only Tax Increment Financing District. As a TIF, the taxable value of the property within the district has been frozen at 2004 levels for the purpose of distributing funds to the school districts and other taxing bodies. The “incremental” property taxes stemming from normal appreciation or new development are diverted to the TIF account, which provides money to finance the improvements.
“We created the Tax Increment Financing District there and immediately went into recession,” said City Manager David Knapp. “So the money isn’t there. You are counting on the rising value of property to generate an increment. It is going to take a long time, but the money will eventually build up in those accounts and we will be able to make improvements to the streetscape and make it more attractive. It is kind of a hidden treasure there.”