Retail rebounds as towns get creative in luring new growth

Brock A. Stein | 4/29/2015, 10:26 p.m.
A new Walmart in New Lenox was under construction when the economy turn sour in late 2008. The tax money ...
Construction is underway on a new Dick’s Sporting Goods and DSW Shoes on Plainfield Road in Joliet, which are being built on the site of the old Cinemark Movies 10.

A new Walmart in New Lenox was under construction when the economy turn sour in late 2008. The tax money generated by 501 E. Lincoln Highway store helped the village weather the economic downturn.

“As that got up and going, that kept us a float,” said Robin Ellis, director of community development.

Most communities in Will County were not so lucky, however, when retail development came to a halt and big projects that had been in the works – a Kohl’s in Shorewood and a Home Depot in Lockport are two examples – disappeared.

And even with the Walmart in place, it’s only now that the retail area surrounding it is getting developed.

“There’s only one (parcel) left,” she said of the 12 outlots and three larger sites surrounding the store. National retailers like Aldi, Petco and TJ Maxx have snapped them up.

Retail is finally making a comeback, and not just in New Lenox. Almost every community in Will County has seen some new development in the last year, and vacant spots – such as those along the Weber Road, Plainfield Road and Route 59 corridors in Romeoville, Joliet and Plainfield – are finally starting to see growth.

“I believe we have an underrepresented retail market, especially in those mid- to upper-quality stores,” said John Greuling, president of the Will County Center for Economic Development. “I think there’s still some room for some pretty significant retail expansion.”

The big factor driving retail expansion is population growth, which almost ground to a standstill with the recession. New residents are big lures for companies considering where to put new stores, Greuling said.

“That really does put a damper on retail (without it),” Greuling said.

With developers no longer fighting over space in Will County, communities have learned they have to find new ways to attract people and businesses.

New Lenox has been using radio ads and other marketing tools to lure new housing growth and it appears to be paying off, Ellis said. The village ranked 7th in the Chicago metro market for housing starts last year, and rebounded from 23 new homes in 2010 to a high of 172 in 2013. She thinks the village will best those numbers in 2015.

“Once the recession hit, it caused everybody to be more creative if you wanted to keep things going,” Ellis said. “The village views itself more as a partner with development than we had been.”

Joliet, too, has found they must partner with developers, especially in terms of speeding up the approval process so that projects can get going more quickly, said Jim Haller, the city’s community and economic development director.

“We try to be very accommodating,” Haller said.

Among the biggest projects for the city is a new Dick’s Sporting Goods and DSW Shoes going in on the site where Cinemark Movies 10 on Plainfield Road stood just a few weeks ago, he said.

That project got off the ground in a matter of months, Haller said, as did a new development on Jefferson Street, which is now home to an Aldi food store and three fast-food restaurants: Potbelly, Chipotle and Mooyah Burgers.