Skokie mayor eyeing more economic development this year

Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen looks ahead to 2017 where he said he sees potential for planning and economic development. (Mike Isaacs / Pioneer Press)
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen looks ahead to 2017 where he said he sees potential for planning and economic development. (Mike Isaacs / Pioneer Press)


Unlike the beginning of some years in Skokie, 2017 strikes Mayor George Van Dusen as “deceptively quiet,” he said.

“The first couple years of the last term we had some tumult,” Van Dusen recalled.

In this election year, the Caucus Party incumbents — including the mayor, all trustees and the village clerk — are running unopposed in April.

Van Dusen, 73, was first appointed to the Skokie Village Board in 1999 after serving as trustee and seeks his fourth elected term in April.

Looking back at the start of his current administration, Van Dusen points to the controversy regarding beekeeping regulations in Skokie and the 10 days the village had to adopt an assault weapons ban among other issues.

“For the most part, we’ve just gone about our business,” he said. “Most of the challenges have been created by what isn’t going on in Springfield.”

But that doesn’t mean the village hasn’t been active — especially when it comes to economic development, according to the mayor. The end of the recession, he said, has “unleashed” some successful development activity.

“There’s been tremendous economic development the last couple years,” said Van Dusen. “In each of the last three years, we’ve exceeded 5,000 building permits. That’s a record.”

Several new commercial developments are expected to open this year starting with Skokie’s first Culver’s restaurant next week in the 9400 block of Skokie Boulevard. In the last quarter of the year, Van Dusen said, a new Target store could be ready to open at the southwest corner of Dempster Street and Bronx Avenue in the village’s West Dempster Street Corridor.

The store is expected to occupy 33,000 square-feet on property the village purchased that was once home to a dilapidated shopping center, according to village data on the development project. Nearby is another village-owned property slated for an auto parts store.

“We were patient with these properties and that paid off,” the mayor said.

Van Dusen said he is hoping patience also pays off for the former restaurant site at Oakton Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown, which the village also owns. He had predicted 2016 would be the year in which development plans would be announced there, but that didn’t happen..

“We came close,” he said, adding that plans for a promising mixed-use development ultimately fell through. The mayor said there continues to be interest in the site.

A new three-retailer center is being built in the 9300 block of Skokie Boulevard, Van Dusen said. The site had been home to one hotel or another for more than 50 years.

The village’s two shopping centers and surrounding areas have also been active, according to the mayor. Westfield Old Orchard on the north is scheduled to open revamped luxury movie theaters in the fall, he said. Two small shopping areas have recently opened near Village Crossing along Touhy Avenue on the south. A popular bar-be-que restaurant is scheduled for a 2017 opening there in the 5200 block of Touhy, he said.

Development challenges still remain, Van Dusen admitted, including filling vacancies along a stretch of Skokie Boulevard near downtown.

Negotiations over the sale of the Illinois Science + Technology Park in downtown Skokie continue, he said. The park now has more than 1,500 employees, according to the mayor. Owner Forest City Enterprises announced more than a year ago it was selling the biotech park, which sits on 28 acres of property that once housed a pharmaceutical company. The open campus has a handful of buildings occupied by various science and medical companies.

Forest City officials originally said they expected the park to fill more quickly with more buildings being constructed based on demand, but the recession slowed down that demand, they said. A sixth building on the site was slated for construction with the help of a state grant that never came through because of the fiscal crisis in Springfield, Van Dusen said.

The mayor said he believes there are companies that would occupy that building, but only a shell sits on the site because of insufficient funds to complete it, Van Dusen said. He said he is hopeful the completion of the building could be part of a new buyer’s plans.

The village now wholly owns The North Shore Center For the Performing Arts, which will likely see upgrades in the future, he said.

Skokie is in the 26th year of a property tax freeze for the village portion of taxes, and that pattern is likely to continue, Van Dusen said. The village’s solid commercial base has allowed for the annual freeze, while other taxing bodies need property tax revenue, he said.

“The other units — the schools, the park district, the library — are not excessive in their property tax levies,” he said. “What we need is school finance reform.”

A couple years ago, an independent study of Skokie police operations inspired a plan to increase patrol officers and overall staffing of the Skokie Police Department.

Since then, new officers were hired and Skokie introduced a new mobile police station. The idea, Van Dusen said, was to bring more police presence into neighborhoods.

These actions came after some residents raised concerns following some high-profile crimes. However, statistics have shown that Skokie crime is not on the rise, Van Dusen said.

Although the mayor has not yet seen crime numbers for 2016, he said, he expects rates of incidents to remain relatively unchanged.

In recent years, Skokie has undergone a lot of transition at the top — changes in its village manager and assistant village manager, some trustees and other positions. Van Dusen said 2017, however, begins with Skokie having reached “a nice stable area” after “seamless” changes.

“I think in this next year, we’re going to see a lot of planning,” he said. “I want to take a look at East Dempster Street and Skokie Boulevard and East Oakton Street. There are some things we’ll look at to try to help those areas.”





New Veterans Park wall installed to honor Skokie military men, women

Francisco Gonzalez of Ruffolo Inc. Design Construction Maintenance works Nov. 22, 2016, on installing a wall in the Skokie Park District's Veterans Park. The wall is now complete and will include the names of those from Skokie who have served in the military. (Mike Isaacs / Pioneer Press)

Veterans Park, near the heart of downtown Skokie, is adding one more way to honor past and current service men and women enlisted in the military.

Workers recently completed installation of a new wall in the park that will eventually include bricks engraved with veterans’ names, said Skokie Park District Executive Director John Ohrlund.

Ohrlund said the idea for the wall was raised by park leaders about a year ago during the park district’s budgeting cycle. Veterans Park was created as a venue to honor U.S. military men and women and includes several monuments and benches surrounded by landscaping. One of the town’s smaller parks, it has always been a setting for quiet and contemplation rather than sports and loud activity, park leaders have said.

“Some of the commissioners thought this was a really good idea,” Ohrlund said about constructing a tribute wall. “A memorial wall is probably the wrong word for it because it’s intended for both living service people and those who have already passed away too.”

“That seems to be the best time,” he said. “We want to celebrate those who have served their country in the military — both those living and those who have died. The concept is that friends and family of servicemen and women will pay for engraved paver bricks that will be added to the wall.”

According to park district officials, the wall measures about 150 square feet. The park district spent about $6,000 on it, Ohrlund said, which does not include some landscaping that will surround the wall.

The park district expects to publicize the wall and the sale of the bricks at least a month or two before Memorial Day, Ohrlund said. Since the park opened nearly a dozen years ago, it has been home to the village’s annual Memorial Day commemorations.

“A park with this name, and with already having a memorial to other service organizations in the park, we just thought this was a very appropriate way to further honor our military families in Skokie,” Ohrlund said.

Twitter: @SKReview_Mike


Skokie Review: Parade countdown: Skokie putting final pieces in place for Fourth of July celebration

Chairman Alan Gerstner leads his committee through a planning meeting earlier this month to prepare for the Fourth of July Parade in Skokie. Gerstner is the new chairman of the Fourth of July Parade Committee. (Mike Isaacs, Pioneer Press)

Soon, the street outside Village Hall— where Skokie’s Fourth of July Parade planning committee met earlier this month — will be loaded with patriotic music, vibrant colors, floats and many other festivities.

The parade kicks off at noon July 4, from Oakton Community College, 7701 N. Lincoln Ave. It will travel down Lincoln Avenue to Niles Center Road and head east on Oakton where it will end at Oakton Park.

But in order to make that celebratory sensory overload happen, there had to be less exciting meetings just like this one, and there had to be dedicated volunteers willing to put in time and effort to take care of both the big and small details just like these folks. 

“We started from scratch this year,” new Fourth of July Parade Committee Chairman Alan Gerstner told a couple dozen of his troops. “You guys have helped me and helped the community, and I wanted to thank you for all your hard work.”

Gerstner and village officials said they wanted to take the parade in a new direction, and they promise that this is the beginning of a new era. The most noticeable addition to this year’s parade is Skokie’s first celebrity grand marshal (Skokie had a local grand marshal from the military years ago).

On the day of the planning meeting, Stolte had emailed the committee saying that his family is excited about the role they’ll assume on the Fourth of July.

A somewhat bumpy changing of the guard in overseeing the parade was announced early in the year, when the weather was a lot colder and the Fourth of July felt far away.

After more than 25 years as parade chairperson, Fern Katz stepped down and Gerstner, a member of the parade committee under Katz for years, was handed the chairmanship.

Katz had complained that she was disrespected and poorly treated by the village, leaving her no choice but to resign.

Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge told the Skokie Review in January that some people who had been part of the parade committee requested that changes be made. Katz had talked about resigning, he said, and “we took her up on her offer.”

Gerstner has also served as president of the Skokie School District 68 School Board, chairman of the Skokie Human Relations Commission and is currently a member of the Skokie Caucus Party Board and vice chairman of the Skokie Zoning Board of Appeals.

When the planning committee meeting was held earlier this June, volunteers had nailed down 63 units for the parade, but that number has increased since then and approaches 70, volunteers said. Gerstner said he initially thought 35 or 40 units would be a good number for the first year.

The committee has reached out to new sponsors as well, making contact with businesses that have not been involved in the parade in past years, Gerstner said.

The list of sponsors for the Fourth of July Parade include the old and the new: the village and the Skokie Park District, First Bank & Trust and Lakeshore Recycling Systems, MB Financial Bank and Buffalo Wild Wings, Martin Nissan and Evanston Subaru, Holiday Inn North Shore and Enterprise Rent-A-Car; the Curaugh Irish Pub and the Walking Company.

Committee member Gayle Weinhouse was still bringing in new sponsors as the days to the parade were growing short. Other announced sponsors include Cagan Management Group, Fitness Defined, Jazzercise, Sherman Dodge and a grant from the Rice Foundation.

Volunteers also have to address a plethora of questions and headaches that come up when any group takes on an event of this magnitude.

Is spray chalk a good alternative for pavement markings? What to do about an out-of-town drum and bugle corps that needs lodging and doesn’t want to check out until 10 p.m. to accommodate its next gig? (That proved possible — especially since everything parade-oriented had to be cleaned up and cleared away by the time the fireworks display is held at Niles West High School).

One issue this year’s parade organizers do not have to worry about, however, is the CTA Yellow Line train crossing Oakton and dividing the parade lineup. Perhaps the Fourth of July will be the only day of the summer when the projected five-month shutdown of the Yellow Line will be viewed as good news for the community.

“We still have a couple of weeks of down and dirty work,” Gerstner told the group at the end of the meeting. “But on the 5th of July, we’re going to be sitting back and smiling and the mayor is going to say, ‘Wow, that was a great parade.”

The Fourth of July Parade Committee is looking for volunteers and accepting sponsors. For more information about the parade, go to

Twitter: @SKReview_Mike

From last week's Skokie Review – On the air: Skokie's small business guru hosts radio show



Scott "Shalom" Klein must have the largest hat rack in all of Skokie considering how many hats he wears in his day-to-day life.

Just when you think he could not possibly fit another one, Klein takes advantage of a new opportunity that he says was too meaningful to pass up.

Not long ago, the Economic Development Commission chairman, Dempster Street Merchants Association co-founder, student, Jewish B2B Networking chairman, jobs adviser and vice-president of Moshe Klein & Associates Ltd. in Skokie added another unlikely role to his arsenal: radio host.

What was not unlikely, though, is that just over a year later, “Get Down To Business With Scott "Shalom" Klein” on radio’s AM 560 (WIND) seems a big success.

Read more at:

Skokie Review: Skokie panel close to backing looser sign restrictions

The Skokie Economic Development Commission is considering loosening village restrictions on commercial electronic signs and sandwich or A-frame signs.

The commission recently held a public hearing about Skokie’s sign code. The consensus among commissioners, Chairman Scott "Shalom" Klein said, is regulations on these two types of signs are too restrictive and not business-friendly enough.

The current village ordinance requires owners of electronic signs not to change messages more than once every 24 hours, which some commissioners say is excessively strict.

“I’d like to think Skokie is in the curve and not behind it,” said Village Inn restaurant owner Randy Miles, a commission member and president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie. “I travel a fair amount, and I see a lot of different communities, and I think there is a case for moving electronic signs. I’ve felt that way for quite some time.”

Miles made those comments at the commission’s public hearing last month, and there seemed to be agreement among many of the commissioners when they met Sept. 30.

“There were some heated comments about electronic signs [at the hearing], and my personal feeling is that the comments were spot-on,” Klein said. “How can it be that the village has a Skokie Swift sign that changes however often it changes, but meanwhile businesses that are investing thousands of dollars aren’t allowed the same?”

If it’s a safety hazard, Klein said, then shouldn’t it be a safety hazard for all?

“Let’s not have a double standard over here when we are a very business-friendly community. This doesn’t send the right message,” he said.

In 2010, downtown merchants, who needed a boost as a result of the sluggish economy, asked for and were granted a reprieve from the village’s ban against sidewalk signs outside their establishments.

But even then, there were merchants who said there should be greater allowances for these type of signs on a permanent basis.

“The issue has been talked about now for years,” Klein said.

Some business owners have erected sandwich signs, which technically are illegal under the ordinance. Business owners can be subject to $200 fines.

“It’s not being regulated right now, but the ordinance that’s in place only allows signs within 10 feet of the door of a business,” Klein said.

The commission is not only looking to address tight restrictions about these two types of signs but to clarify what is and isn’t allowed for a Skokie business when it comes to erecting signs. There has been confusion, Klein said.

“We’re business friendly, and it’s about time we make it clear what a business can and can’t do before they invest thousands of dollars into signage,” he said. “They should know. That’s really the third piece I hope we accomplish — the education.”

Right now, Klein said, the sign code is confusing because some ordinances on the books are being regulated while others are not.

Klein and Economic Development Commission Vice Chairman Howard Meyer, who also heads up the Skokie Chamber of Commerce, will review all comments with Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge. Klein hopes to have recommendations drafted for the Economic Development Commission to consider at its Nov. 25 meeting.

The recommendations will likely be run past the Skokie Appearance Commission before the Village Board takes a final vote.

“I don’t think it’s much of a contentious issue,” Klein said. “I think everyone will pretty much agree that these are changes that are long overdue. We are living in 2014 and almost 2015 and digital signs and sandwich signs are not a bad thing if they’re done properly.”

Read more by Mike Isaacs…

Skokie Sign Ordinance

Skokie Review: New commission studies Skokie sign code

Skokie Sign Ordinance
Electronic signs with regularly changing messages are allowed on public but not on commercial properties. This is only one component of the current sign code the new Economic Development Commission will study. | Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media

Economic Development Commission Chairman Scott "Shalom" Klein said the new group will tackle the subject appropriately.

“There never will be a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “There never will be the perfect recipe.”

Klein said it’s clear that Old Orchard should have a different standard than some businesses on smaller sites.

“At the same time, the goal of this process is to talk and to listen,” he said. “I think we did a good job of listening. This was a good conversation.”

The Economic Development Commission will continue the conversation at its early morning meetings Sept. 30 and Nov. 25 at Village Hall.

Read the full article by Mike Isaacs…


Skokie Review: Skokie small business guru becomes radio show host

Scott SKOKIE — If there is a way to reach more people with his tireless advocacy for small businesses and those looking for jobs, you knew Skokie resident Scott "Shalom" Klein would find it.

That’s the same Scott "Shalom" Klein who stages “The Business Event” every year, drawing thousands of businesses and leaders including elected officials, associated agencies and job seekers together under one roof; the same Scott "Shalom" Klein who helped develop the Dempster Street Merchants Association in Skokie; the same Scott "Shalom" Klein who chairs the village’s first Economic Development Commission.

And now it is Scott "Shalom" Klein, the radio host.

Klein has signed on with AM 560 WIND to host “Get Down To Business with Scott "Shalom" Klein,” which airs weekly at 6 p.m. on Sundays. The first show was scheduled for April 20.

Although Klein has become a networking business guru of sorts, this was one of those rare opportunities that took him by surprise. He was at WIND for other reasons, he said, when the suggestion for a radio show was presented to him. He immediately was intrigued.

“I’m no stranger to the microphone,” Klein said, “so this seems like a great opportunity to reach more people. I’m very excited about it, and I sure didn’t know the opportunity was coming.”

Perhaps the opportunity is a great example of just what Klein believes in when it comes to small businesses and those looking for work. By assertively networking, staying on top of follow-up calls and emails, keeping one’s name out there, opportunities can unexpectedly surface — perhaps seemingly from nowhere, but in reality from anywhere.

WIND describes Klein as “a frequent speaker on small business and jobs, an avid networker, dedicated entrepreneur and experienced community organizer.”

The Skokie Review recently profiled my community involvement: Small business guru Scott "Shalom" Klein takes on robust schedule

Scott There may be no busier person in Skokie than Scott "Shalom" Klein who lives there, works there and volunteers much of his time there.

And there may be no busier month for Klein than June.

Klein helps run Moshe Klein & Associates Ltd., his father’s bookkeeping and accounting firm that helps small businesses. It has two offices on Dempster Street in Skokie – on the east side and the newer office on the west side near the Skokie Swift train station.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Klein’s activities, especially in helping small businesses grow and connect with job-seekers.

Next week, he will stage the third annual free The Business Event at Evanston High School. It will host important small businesses and key speakers and will draw thousands of people. Later this month, he will chair Skokie’s first Economic Development Commission meeting. He is founder, steering committee member and former chair of The Dempster Street Merchants Association. Newly married, he is also pursuing an advanced degree in Jewish professional studies in business and administration.

Read more at Skokie Review…