BULLDOZERS WERE STILL plying the earth at RidgePort in early November, creating the detention pond that will manage stormwater on the northwest section of the property. The development is expected to get some vertical lift in 2013, with the construction of its first warehouse and a potential commercial structure.
The year 2013 will probably hold the same challenges for the city of Wilmington as 2012 - promoting good growth and development while protecting the interests of residents.
"The continued push is for industrial and commercial growth," said Mayor Marty Orr. "We have to, we have no choice. Everything keeps going up. If we don't grow with it, then everybody keeps paying."
Last year, city officials were like expectant parents, waiting for the arrival of new industries, RidgePort Logistics Center, Illinois Transport and Miken Cartage. The progress was slower than city officials had hoped for, but the businesses now have a local presence.
Illinois Transport began operations at its new South Arsenal Road facility last month, and is expected to eventually hire some 200 people. The company is already talking about buying additional acreage for expansion.
Miken is working on site improvements, and expects to start working on building renovations next month.
Another industrial project, the city's biggest, saw some earth moving and road construction activity in the fall. RidgePort is under construction west of Interstate 55 and south of Lorenzo Road.
But 2013 is expected to be the year the project really gets off the ground. Developer Ridge Property Trust is working on the preliminary plans for industrial and commercial buildings it will be submitting for review by the city engineer and the Planning and Zoning Commission in the next six to eight weeks. Orr expects to see some construction activity on site in the spring.
Industrial development benefits a community in terms of property tax revenue, but also in what they generate in retail sales and residential growth.
"Sometimes it's hard to see the benefit that comes off that type of business," Orr said. "It's the offshoots of that, the number of times those people who work there come into town to use other types of businesses, whether it be the hardware store, the local restaurants, or using local firms ... I know [Illinois Transport] hired a Wilmington cleaning company. It's those types of things that people don't really see," Orr said.
Orr thinks the council will also be open to discussion about further annexation, as stretching the city's landmass protects it from encroachment from neighboring communities, and secures any future benefit from the subject property.
"Even Joliet Motosports Park's annexation - it doesn't look like a big thing for the city, it's not going to bring in a whole lot of money. But it gets us out there. We don't know what's going to happen five, six, seven years down the road with the property that's adjacent to it. But we're there."
With the planned future elimination of the Blodgett Road overpass, there could be new interest in development at the west end of the road, near the county line, the mayor explained.
And the Illiana presents one of the biggest potential impacts on the community, as well as the biggest challenge for members of the council.
"We continue to push the New River Road route, but we have to recognize that, as much as we push for that, the end result might not be that," Orr said. "We have to make sure as elected officials that the people who are impacted are taken care of."
The council will be pushing for new recreational property to replace the Bobcat field, if the highway corridor cuts across the Kankakee River and plows through the facility. They'll also make sure that the way the highway develops has the smallest possible negative impact on the city and its residents.
In addition to fighting for a corridor alignment that avoids homes, city officials are also campaigning to push the first interchange away from Route 53 to near Old Chicago Road, and keep planners from putting a toll booth west of an Old Chicago Road interchange.
At Route 53, an interchange will wipe out commercial and industrial property along the state highway, and make conditions unbearable for nearby residents. An interchange closer to Old Chicago Road will serve to pull truck traffic to South Arsenal Road and away from the more sensitive Route 53-Route 66 corridor.
Toll booth location, if the Illiana is developed as a tollway, is even more critical. A toll booth closer to the community than an Old Chicago Road interchange will only increase the amount of truck traffic on local roads as truckers try to save on tolls by using the state and county roads.
Orr said the opportunities for growth are still here, but city officials have to get creative with incentive packages for residential and commercial growth.
For home builders, Orr proposes allowing tap on and impact fees to be deferred until it's time to issue an occupancy permit. The practice allows the builder to use his bankroll on construction. The city and affected taxing bodies still get the funds due them, before the new home and its residents make an impact on the water and sewer systems and the school and park districts, and the builder has better cash flow at that time.
"Hopefully that will generate some interest," Orr said.
The mayor sees value in working to improve the downtown area, which is considered the cornerstone of the business community. The council may consider putting money into the facade improvement grant fund; looking for other ways to fund improvements, like abatements and doing everything possible to bring tenants to the storefronts. The parking lot west of the millrace is still on the list of pavement projects to be done, as funding becomes available.
City officials willing to invest funds in downtown improvements will expect the property owners to be just as committed.
"They need to work with us to get that right turn," Orr commented.
The city is upgrading its website, and creating a database for commercial property that can be a valuable developer resource. When those developers do make an inquiry, city officials have to be able to develop a quick working relationship with them.
"You have to let them know you're working with them, and side-by-side with them, to get them to where they want to go," Orr commented.
As growth starts back up, municipalities will be pitted against municipalities as businesses look for the best development deal. Competition is fierce.
This could also be the year the city of Wilmington finally builds a new police station. The move into the current station, at 120 N. Main St., was supposed to be temporary, but the city's police department have been using the ill-fitting former post office for more than 30 years.
The city will receive $2 million from Ridge Property Trust, to be used for the construction of a police station. City officials are working with the owner of property near city hall, on which they propose construction of a modular facility. The challenge will be staying within the $2 million budget so the residents don't have to pay for the building.