Local mayors see light at end of tunnel

                                                                                                                             Photo by Joe Boyle
Dick’s Sporting Goods will occupy the old Carson’s at the Chicago Ridge Mall. Construction is now taking place at the site and the store could open this summer.
By Joe Boyle
Two southwest suburban mayors are reviewing project ideas that they believe can offer their communities a lift in the new year.
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. However, despite the presence of COVID-19, the village has a couple of developments that provide optimism for the future.
The mayor mentioned two projects in particular — Dick’s Sporting Goods that will come to the Chicago Ridge Mall and a marijuana dispensary.
“We are pretty happy with what’s going on,” Tokar said. “I just drove by the Chicago Ridge Mall and saw the sign for Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s really good news.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods will occupy at least one level of the old Carson’s retail store that closed in the summer of 2018. Tokar and the village board were delighted to work out a deal to bring the sporting goods store to Chicago Ridge. Since Carson’s closed, the only business conducted at the site was a seasonal Halloween products store that would open for just over a month.
The sporting goods store could open by August, Tokar said.
The cannabis dispensary will open at the former Pier 1 Imports location at 9820 S. Ridgeland Ave., beside the Chicago Ridge Mall. Marijuana for medical and recreational purposes will be sold there. The closest cannabis dispensary to Chicago Ridge is Windy City Cannabis at 11425 S. Harlem Ave., in Worth.
Tokar was expecting the dispensary to open in late summer but received some additional good news.
“The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation said that the owners have to have it open by March 31,” Tokar said. “I said that is great. We have been more than lucky on this.”
The village board on Nov. 17 approved a business license for Ascend Wellness Holdings, which will do business as Ascend, at the former Pier 1 Imports location.
Exactly how much revenue that will mean for Chicago Ridge is uncertain. But last year, the board approved a 3 percent tax on all cannabis sales in the village. This is in addition to the existing retail taxes.
“These marijuana dispensaries bring in a lot of revenue,” Tokar said.
Tokar was also pleased to finally see the old Yellow Freight trucking terminal company property near 103rd and Harlem leveled this past fall to make way for future development.
The pandemic will continue in 2021 but Tokar said his village has an advantage over other communities.
“We are obviously blessed to have the mall,” Tokar said. “That brings in revenue of lot of other communities don’t have. We also made some cuts during the past year that will help us in 2021. We have lowered our tax levy about $300,000 less than last year. That is going to help us. Financially, we are in pretty good shape.”
Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said that the pandemic canceled many programs and activities in the city last year, including the annual Friendship Fest. But despite those setbacks, the city has made a lot of progress, the mayor said.
Bennett pointed to the completion of the state-of-the-art public works building on the east grounds of Gerald R. Bennett Park at 108th and Roberts Road. The park has also gone through major renovations, including educational amenities for youths, a walking path and exercise equipment along the east side of the park.
The mayor said a walking path will be completed beginning at the entrance of the park and will continue around the whole area.
“We have been able to get $200,000 in grants from outside the city for the new play area,” Bennett said about the park, which was formally Pleasure Lake but was renamed after the mayor by council members last spring. “And this does not cost the taxpayers anything.”
Bennett said that while COVID-19 has resulted in major obstacles, several projects were already planned in advance. The Southwest Central Dispatch building will be completed in the summer at the new location adjacent to the North Palos Fire Protection District Station 2 on the 8900 block of West 95th Street. The $8 million project received a monetary boost of $2 million from the state through the efforts of state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th).
The mayor cited recent examples of development that include the opening of a Thorntons gas station at 111th and Roberts Road and a new Dunkin’ shop at 8831 W. 95th St. The resurfacing of Roberts Road will be completed this year. Additional infrastructure improvement to curbs, roads and sewers will be taking place, Bennett said.
Bennett, who has been mayor since 1981, said that he plans to continue in that role because he wants to see the renovation of the city he has called home for many years continue.
“I have been honored and humbled to be the mayor for all these years and will continue to do so,” Bennett said. “It’s a joy to live here all these years. We have made a lot of improvements and there will be more to come.”

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