Shorewood — Looking at pictures from 10 years ago, it's hard to remember that Oakland Avenue wasn't always the bustling commercial district it is today.
Shorewood officials reflected on Oakland Avenue's recent economic development growth during an event Tuesday, May 17, organized by the Congress for the New Urbanism. The private guest list included Shorewood residents, elected officials, developers and economic development directors from other communities.
Titled 'Shorewood 2.0: Successes and Challenges to Creating a Great Place,' village officials shared their strategies to creating commercial growth, and their goals to continue that momentum.
New urbanism is a term used often in Shorewood. Essentially it prioritizes pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roads with mixed-use development, high-density commercial corridors and placemaking concepts such as parks and public art.
Shorewood's redevelopment story started in the early 1990s when village officials recognized declining property values and vacancies in the commercial district.
The village started a community development authority in 1993, established its first tax incremental finance district in 1995 and created its business improvement district in 1999.
Lighting the fire
Central to Shorewood's redevelopment efforts was the central district master plan created by village officials in 2006.
'If you can see it, we can do it,' Shorewood Village Manager Chris Swartz said of the village's strategic planning efforts. 'There were many years where we couldn't see it.'
With that master plan in hand, Shorewood officials started approaching developers and showing them development opportunities in Shorewood. One of those developers was The Mandel Group, which developed a six-story, 84-unit apartment building with a Walgreen's and two parking structures in 2013.
During a panel discussion, The Mandel Group's chief operating officer Bob Monnat said Shorewood was a desirable market for them because of its location, the number of residents older than 50 years old and the master plan developed by the village.
'Having a plan in place for us was absolutely critical,' he said. 'The plan that Shorewood had gave a lot of direction in terms of form-based development guidance and in terms of ways the village would consider working with the developer.'
In addition to The Mandel Group's LightHorse 4041 development, Shorewood officials also highlighted the foreclosed Mobil gas station that was transformed into The Cornerstone, a four-story, mixed-use apartment building anchored by Colectivo Coffee and North Shore Bistro. The project's developer, Blair Williams, also developed the four-story, mixed-use Ravenna development across the street.
Shorewood officials acknowledged that some residents opposed the village's redevelopment efforts, and that was certainly true of the most recent project: the two-story Metro Market, four-story parking structure and six-story mixed-use Mosaic building under construction on the north end of the three-block-long development.
Central to those resident concerns is the height of the buildings, the loss of open parking lots and the amount of tax incremental financing used to facilitate development projects.
TIF financing was essential to all of Shorewood's redevelopment opportunities, said Michael Harrigan, the village's TIF consultant.
By providing $22 million in grants and $10 million in repayable loans, Shorewood's TIF districts have created $115 million in new value over the last seven years.
Monnat said the use of TIF is often demonized, but in the case of the LightHorse development, the village was able to use a $4 million TIF grant to finance a parking structure in a lot owned by Dan Katz, who Monnat said was not going to allow public parking after 2014. The Mandel Group pays $50,000 a year to maintain the garage, and they are paying back the village's $3.6 million loan at a high interest rate, he said.
'When it hits the newspaper, people say 'Oh my God, that project got $7.6 million of my tax dollars,'' Monnat said. 'The village made a profitable loan, and they solved this entire quadrant's problem for public parking.'
Although TIF has been a core tool for redevelopment efforts in the past, Swartz said the village will wind down its use of those funds in the future. With seven major redevelopment projects in the last seven years, CDA Chairman Peter Hammond said the village is now focused on smaller-scale redevelopment opportunities.