In 2016, my first complete year as mayor, the Village of Tinley Park faced great challenges but also made enormous progress. With 2017 well underway, I’d like to reflect on all we’ve accomplished so far.
Last fall the Village worked with Roger Brooks International (RBI) to conduct a study to determine the Village’s new brand – in other words, what we want Tinley Park to be known for. With one of the largest music venues in the country, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, as well as live music in most of our dining establishments on Oak Park Avenue and award-winning school band programs, music was a natural choice! RBI prepared an action plan and delivered it to the Village in January. We’ll use this plan to begin implementing the new music brand Village-wide over the next several years.
Part of this branding process will include the construction of a new plaza in Downtown Tinley that will feature activities 250 days a year, including winter. We’re also looking at adding an ice rink that could double as a splash pad in the summer, which would complement the great special events we already have in town. Please see the renderings immediately following this story for an idea of what the plaza may look like. I’m excited to share our vision for a revitalized downtown that will enhance the Village’s position in the region, increase demand for residential properties and positively impact home values.
With some of the best commuter rail and schedules in the entire METRA system, as well as convenient interstate access, eclectic dining experiences, world-class brew pubs and a new Downtown Tinley venue in the works that will permit us to conduct special events in a dedicated facility. I’m confident our new brand will be a smash hit and we’ll be recognized as a premier place to live and recreate.
Other excitement includes the redevelopment of the 280-acre state campus site at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue. After a brief hiatus to explore the feasibility of constructing a sports complex on the property, we’re ready to resume our public open houses this year. Once these are complete, we should have a master plan that will help guide development. The vastness of the property also means great possibilities for commercial and residential properties of all types – multi-family, single family, senior facilities – all linked to Downtown Tinley to form a great neighborhood.
We’re continuing to focus on those assets that enhance the Village, namely the Oak Park Avenue and 80th Avenue train stations, regarded as two of the best in the entire Metra system, and the Tinley Park Convention Center, a world-class facility that attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. I envision connectors that parallel the Metra tracks to link the stations together, and the recently improved Oak Park Avenue bike lane/walking path as a link from Downtown Tinley to the Convention Center. Divvy-type rental bikes can provide visitors a chance to experience Downtown Tinley and the Forest Preserve District’s paths that literally surround Tinley Park.
In addition to introducing live streaming of Village Board meetings on our official YouTube channel, we’re working on creating town meetings that will allow residents to call in to ask questions and get answers. The addition of a Village Facebook page and increased use of our Twitter account is providing residents with even greater access to government, underscoring our goal to make community engagement one of our highest priorities.
The Village also continues to invest in and focus on core responsibilities specifically infrastructure – our streets, water and sewer. We replaced 948 parkway trees in 2016 that were ravaged by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, bringing our total to nearly 9,000 trees since we began in 2014. Planting will resume this spring for the sixth and final season. I’m proud to say Tinley Park has one of the best-maintained water and sewer systems in the region. We’re aggressively addressing water meter issues, with more than 6,000 new meters installed so far and more than 2,600 this year alone. Village street maintenance continues, and 12.5 miles of Village streets have been resurfaced this year. The Village continues to monitor and address neighborhood flooding issues with an $800,000 investment in the Parkside neighborhood in 2016.
Commerce thrived last year. Businesses demonstrated their confidence in Tinley Park through expansion and a net of 93 new businesses opening in 2016, which in turn created hundreds of new jobs.
The Village stepped up its partnering efforts in 2016 by working with several organizations for the betterment of Tinley Park. We worked with METRA for improved service levels, resulting in a new 33-minute express train from Chicago that has been a huge benefit for our resident commuters. We’re also working with the Cook County Board to replace 175th Street from Ridgeland Avenue to Oak Park Avenue and Ridgeland Avenue from Oak Forest Ave to 175th Street, a project that will cost in excess of $6 million. We’re also working with state and federal agencies to improve the intersection of 191st Street and Harlem Avenue and adjacent roads that will improve the ability to develop vacant properties, for a cost in excess of $8 million.
Conservative financial management has allowed us to address issues before they become problems. Police pension funding levels have improved, and Tinley Park’s plan is one of the better-funded ones in the state due to our ongoing commitment to staff, including police. For example, in 2014 our funding was 74.1%, compared to downstate police pension funds in aggregate of 57.7%.
The Village continues to effectively manage revenue streams, which permits us to abate real estate taxes of nearly $6.1 million in 2016. We don’t assume debt unless we define revenue streams to pay for it. We’ve also been able to maintain a property tax levy freeze for three consecutive years.
The Village Board has been working to improve what many professionals consider one of the strongest ethics ordinances in municipal government in an effort to make it more understandable and easier to manage. These ordinances should be presented this year.
The Village of Tinley Park has achieved much of this progress with a dedicated core of more than 100 commission volunteers and a committed and dedicated staff. I love receiving comments and suggestions from residents and invite you to come by my office for Saturday Morning Coffees with the Mayor from 9 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of every month. Stop by Village Hall and let’s chat!