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Orland mayor sees opportunities ahead

 

Orl          Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau put a positive spin on the economic outlook for the town during his first State of the Village presentation last Thursday, at a luncheon the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce hosted at the Civic Center.

          Pekau acknowledged that the village will have to find a way to make up for considerable losses in annual sales tax revenue in the coming year due to the closing this year of Sears, Carson Pirie Scott, Carson’s Furniture Gallery, Toys R Us and Babies R Us, all in the Orland Square Mall.

          “We’re going to lose about $1.2 million in sales tax from the stores we are losing,” said the mayor.

          But he added that because the village has healthy reserves due to conservative budgeting practices, it is in a good position to absorb the “short-term” losses.

          Furthermore, Pekau predicted that the vacant retail spaces will not be dark for long.

          He pointed to the decision by Seritage Growth Properties to invest $40 million in the development of an AMC cinema on the Sears site in the mall as just one indication of Orland Park retaining its good reputation as a place to open businesses. The theater is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

          The mayor also noted that within the next seven weeks, two developers that submitted requests for proposals will make public their ideas for the remaining parcels within the Main Street Triangle section of downtown on 143rd Street just west of LaGrange Road. Village officials decided this year to seek proposals for developing the remaining sites as one unit, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

          “The store closings aren’t an Orland Park problem. They are a national problem,” said Pekau, referring to the challenges faced by brick-and-mortar retail stores trying to compete with online giants such as Amazon.

          He pointed out that Carson’s in Orland Square Mall was the fifth-most profitable store in the chain, and the local Toys R Us was ranked No. 1 nationwide.

          “We’re at a critical junction and we have to diversify our economy, and not depend so much on retail. But I believe (these vacancies) are a short-term opportunity and will be better for the village in the long term,” said Pekau.

“My economic development goals focus on economic diversification, concentrating retail to our core (meaning the central business district of the village), and capital reinvestment,” said Pekau.

The mayor said the village is obligated to manage growing pension costs, and two new early retirement programs for longtime employees are being offered as a cost-saving measure.

He wants to prioritize the development of the I-80 Corridor, and pointed to his involvement in the newly formed Chicago Southland Interstate Alliance (CSIA), a partnership between Orland Park, Tinley Park and Mokena, as a step in that direction. Parts of the corridor lie within all three communities, and the officials agreed not to undercut each other by offering incentives to attract development.

“We improved regional cooperation, both the Southwest Conference of Mayors and the CSIA,” he said, adding that the village’s revamped economic advisory commission is working on ways to attract new businesses.

          The village streamed his address live on Facebook for the first time. Officials in attendance included Orland Park trustees James Dodge, Patricia Gira and Carole Griffin Ruzich; District 230 Superintendent James Gay; D230 School Board President Rick Nogal and District 135 School Board member Linda Dodge.

          Afterward, James Dodge said he thought Pekau’s address was “a lot about things we had in the works before he got here.”

Gira said the mayor made some good points about the direction the village is going and what needs to be done to keep it on the right track.

”This is the new normal,” she said.

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