'Like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic': Des Plaines alderman objects to Metropolitan Square revitalization proposal
A plan to revitalize the Metropolitan Square complex in downtown Des Plaines by creating more public space and reducing auto access has come to a screeching halt.
Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookman led the opposition during Monday's council meeting, saying adding a lawn for public gatherings and more landscaping while eliminating parking spots would do nothing to help financially struggling businesses in the development or attract new ones.
"If it isn't going to draw businesses, then what's the point of it?" Brookman asked. "Redesigning the plaza area is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic at this point."
Brookman also objected to the potential $7 million cost, saying the city could better use that cash to buy downtown property it can control.
Brookman was joined in opposition by Fourth Ward Alderman Artur Zadrozny. He said the concepts looked great but objected to the potential cost.
"I wouldn't vote to move forward with it," Zadrozny said.
Set about a block north of Miner Street, Metropolitan Square opened in 2006 and contains commercial and condominium buildings, a public parking garage and a public plaza. Many of its storefronts are vacant, though, and it's never really caught on as a community gathering place.
On Monday, Brookman said the rents being charged by Metropolitan Square's owners -- Texas-based Tabani Group -- are driving away businesses and scaring off potential tenants. That has been a complaint for years.
A representative from the Giordano's restaurant in the complex complained about the high rents during Monday's meeting.
The Tabani Group might see improvements to the public plaza at Metropolitan Square as an opportunity to increase rent prices even more, Brookman said.
In 2015, the Lakota Group developed improvement plans for the complex, including changing traffic patterns, adding play features for children and installing outdoor seating. None of its recommendations were implemented, though, and the project was shelved.
Mayor Andrew Goczkowski, who was elected last year, revived the discussion, and it had gained support on the council.
But that stopped Monday following a presentation of the latest round of plan revisions by Lakota's Kevin Clark.
Even Goczkowski expressed reservations about the plan, suggesting city staffers undertake a traffic study and look for different ways to create more usable public space at Metropolitan Square.
But resident Paul Beranek rose to say city officials need to take action at the complex "or else it's going to be a tomb."
"It is dying," Beranek said. "We cant just turn around and walk away."
Goczkowski noted city officials "have some time" to act on the plans and should speak with the property owners about the site's future.