Highwood’s new year looks bright


While Highwood Mayor John P. Sirotti worked through the three worst weeks of the year in the U. S. Postal Service at the Highwood Post Office, the new year quietly arrived.

“It’s hard to believe it’s already here,” he said.

When asked about 2002, he said, “I think we’re going to have a good year.”

A review of new development construction, rehabilitation, and reconstruction under way in Highwood supports the sense of optimism Sirotti foresees.

Even the changing social demographics of Highwood is cause for optimism, he said. With Hispanic families from many southern countries living in the city, the level of diversity has increased.

“It’s good,” he said. Diversity “is a valuable asset to the community.”

City events and festivals will continue to reflect the cultures and interests of Highwood residents. Sirotti said the city recreation programs brings people together.

City Administrator J. Mark Rooney identified many areas of community improvement he expects to complete in the new year. The Walgreens Drug Store and Firstar Bank development at the corner of Highwood and Waukegan avenues broke ground in November. “They expect the new Walgreens to be open Nov. 1, 2002,” he said.

Property improvements have occurred, are under way, or are anticipated at Green Bay Road and Highwood Avenue at the former Terracina corner, at the former Clark Station site at Waukegan and Walker avenues, at the former Moran’s Pub site and Veterans of Foreign Wars building, at Shaunessey’s Tavern on Sheridan Road, and at the former Laegeler Pharmacy building at Highwood and Waukegan avenues.

There are many changes in the city hall area at Highwood Avenue and the Metra tracks. “You could have the real core of Highwood rehabbed by next Christmas,” said Rooney. “It could make a marked change to the downtown.”

New signs at Bertucci’s Steak and Seafood and, soon, at Skokie Valley Cleaners reflect the new style of ground monument signs city officials favor. In addition, Skokie Valley Cleaners will upgrade the appearance of their building.

Public sector improvements have occurred as well. The city continues to work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to encourage improvements for Sheridan Road, such as replacement, repaving, curbs, gutters, and sidewalks. “Their budget’s constrained much more than it was two years ago,” Rooney said.

Rooney wants the jurisdictional transfer of the road ownership to take place along with the state funds to make improvements to the road. Even were the city and state to bridge the existing gaps in their negotiations, it still would be July 2003 before Highwood received a check. Right now, state and local officials are separated by a few hundred thousand dollars in their negotiations.

Rooney said it was about a decade before Lake Forest and IDOT reached agreement on repairs for a portion of Sheridan Road in that city. He has only been talking with state officials since 1996.

If the proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district is adopted by the city council in February, the city will be able to plan for its own set of downtown public improvements, and they can start in August. “Our needs have been studied and looked at for four years,” said Rooney. “It depends on how busy contractors are.”

If construction starts, “The TIF will be a two year, minimum, project. You can’t do everything at one time,” said Rooney.

“The TIF is going to keep us pretty busy,” he said.

It will mean sewer and water improvements, buried utility lines, and maybe some streetscape improvements, like new light poles, in the downtown district.

Other anticipated city-financed improvements are not associated with the TIF District. These include reconstruction of old water mains and an access road replacement at the water plant. “We'll be running a new water main down North Avenue to Western. That will improve water pressure,” said Sirotti.

The improvements to the water plant access road are not very visible, but they must be done, he said.

Rooney said one impact of the water system improvements will be reduced commercial liability insurance rates. This will be the result of having built a new water tower, improving the water plant, upgrading water lines and purchasing a new fire engine in the past few years.

North Shore School District 112 opened the new Oak Terrace School on Half Day Road this fall. “That will have a huge impact on the future of Highwood,” said Sirotti. “I think there’s a certain amount of pride in it. You can hear the pride in residents’ voices when they talk about Oak Terrace School.”

Improvements at the school will be completed during the upcoming year, such as additional landscaping and parking.

“I think the road ahead looks real bright,” said Sirotti. “We've got good businesses, good restaurants.”

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Highwood’s new year looks bright

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