Mayor's Corner

Mayor Jake VandenbergIn the few months since I was elected to serve the citizens of Tinley Park as the Village’s Mayor, I have made a point to meet with passionate residents, insightful business owners, dedicated staff and other elected officials to discuss the vision for the exciting future of our community. This has allowed me to create a comprehensive list of shared goals for the Village that, if we all work together to achieve them, will truly amplify life here in Tinley Park. I’ve broken down this comprehensive vision for Tinley Park into six key themes/objectives:

1. Keep the citizens of Tinley Park safe
The first aspect for my vision of Tinley Park is to focus on public safety. Given our close proximity to the City of Chicago, it is critical that we empower our police department and its officers to protect the community with every tool we can give them. A major part of this empowerment is to modernize our surveillance equipment throughout the Village. This means adding license plate-reading cameras at prominent intersections and Village-owned properties; installing software that can identify flagged or suspicious vehicles; and continuing to enhance and empower our officers with modern safety tools.
Another part of my public safety plan is to ensure our officers are being given the proper level of support. This means conducting a staffing study with the police department to allow our officers to conduct their duties in the most efficient way possible. Another aspect of our public safety plan is to restart the Community Watch groups in our neighborhoods. One of the best ways to support our officers and a crucial crime deterrent is a vigilant public.

While empowering the Police Department is very important, it is not the only aspect of Public Safety my administration will focus on. Our current fire stations were designed and built during a time in which we were a small village with an on-call fire department, meaning the fire houses did not house firefighters 24/7/365. Now that our Village has expanded to nearly 60,000 residents we have evolved to a fire department that has different needs. Instead of serving as a meeting place for on-call firefighters, our firehouses now always house firefighters ready to go at a second’s notice. Because of this change our firehouses need to be redesigned and renovated so as to allow our firefighters to conduct their duties in the most efficient manner possible. As a result, we are currently redesigning and will be breaking ground on the redevelopment of Fire Station No. 2, with plans to do the same to Fire Station No. 3 in the future.

2. Foster a healthy economic climate for small businesses

Small businesses are the engine of our economy. As Mayor, I am committed to creating an environment where businesses, especially in Downtown Tinley, can start, grow and thrive. Small and local businesses are critical to our Village, and they are vital to our ongoing success. As such, I want to create a climate that will entice dynamic entrepreneurs to jump-start their businesses here in Tinley Park. This will include, but is not limited to, alluring economic incentives, modernizing our downtown infrastructure, working with the entrepreneurs directly, and courting new and exciting business opportunities to Tinley Park. 
The success of a new business is all about location and the resources that are available to get them off the ground. Our downtown corridor is the perfect location for new businesses. I am also looking at new grant programs to help offset the costs of signage, code compliance issues and attracting new businesses. My plan for small businesses focuses on courting them and supporting them. With the help of these incentives and an invigorated spirit, I plan on filling long-vacant store fronts with new and exciting businesses.

3. Revitalize and redevelop Downtown Tinley
Downtown Tinley is becoming a place where it makes business sense to develop property, open a store or restaurant, live or locate an office. The investments made in the Village in the past, as well as ongoing efforts, are positively changing the community. My administration will incorporate these investments and focus on Downtown Tinley. The market will continue to respond, bringing more investment and development to Downtown Tinley.

In order to continue building upon the momentum of future development potential of our downtown, we must begin by finally moving forward with our South Street and North Street developments. We will begin breaking ground on these projects in the immediate future.

The centerpiece of this revitalization is to build a public plaza that, in conjunction with our new branding effort, will serve as a place for outdoor concerts, theatrical performances and countless other public events throughout the year. This new plaza will immediately boost the appeal of our downtown area and will reflect the sense of community that makes Tinley Park so attractive to visitors and residents.

Downtown Tinley is a perfect location for young professionals and their families. The plan for South Street is to build new upscale apartments that will be attractive to these young professionals. With the proximity to the METRA lines, the walkability of our downtown and the new plaza, Tinley Park is in a unique position to attract these young professionals. All of these factors make Tinley Park the perfect place for those who want the downtown convenience with the suburban charm of a tight-knit community. I plan on capitalizing on these qualities and marketing them to these young professionals.

As for North Street, I am actively working to outline a vision that will fit into the existing character of the area and will serve as a compliment to the new plaza, as well as the South Street developments. I will make it integral to get input from the local community for all of these projects; I know that the residents who live nearby have insight on how to retain the unique charm of the neighborhood while ensuring it has a bright future.

4. Focus on the quality and quantity of talented individuals employed by the Village
In order to provide you, the taxpayers of Tinley Park, with the quality services you deserve in an efficient and effective manner, it is crucial to have a competent, skilled workforce. The competitive landscape in which we operate demands that our work keep pace with technology and best practices. This means increasing training and professional development opportunities for our employees.

We will take advantage of modern technological advances to increase the efficiency of your government. My plan is to modernize the operations of Village Hall, increasing our online presence, revamping the Village website, installing new programs to strengthen our staff and better our customer service through new technology and training. Training and professional development opportunities help ensure that our workforce has the knowledge, skills and abilities to execute the Village’s strategic plan.

We will also emphasize succession planning and identifying those “mission critical” positions for which we need to invest our time and resources into developing. The Village of Tinley Park currently has a number of employees who do an excellent job day in and day out. I will be sure to empower these employees so they will give our residents the best service possible. I will develop and encourage our employees to hone their skills in training courses, workshops or new structures that will increase our efficiency tenfold.

Over the past few years, we have had to realign our departments and staffing needs to meet the lost revenue and changes in municipal government. However, as revenues have begun to stabilize, it’s time to start focusing on not only getting the most qualified people working in each Village department, but ensuring we are adequately staffing our departments, as well. We have already begun to implement several of the recommendations made via a staffing study that was conducted last year by industry experts. This study emphasized a number of ways we could increase our efficiency and create a better working environment for our employees. I am going to see to it that these recommendations are implemented and that they will be a benefit to both our employees and our residents.

5. Implement a plan for the vacant Mental Health Center site
This has served as a blight on our community for far too long. While this is the largest opportunity for change in Tinley Park, it also comes with a number of difficulties that have made it a challenge over the years. Challenge number one is that the land is currently owned by the State of Illinois. The last time the Village inquired about purchasing the land from the State we were given a price tag of $4.1 million; this would not include the enormous cost of demolition and clean up, which could exceed an additional $12 million.

Because of this, I am working with our state representatives to reach a more reasonable price for this land. I will see to it that we are given a price that takes into account the work that will have to be done just to get the land back to a point in which it will be enticing for developers.

There are a number of other hurdles to overcome with this land; the largest is its location. As some of you may know, 183rd Street serves as the dividing line for Cook and Will counties, with the Mental Health Center property falling on the Cook County side of the road. Between property taxes, business taxes and sales taxes, there is a massive tax differential between Cook and Will counties, with Cook County being far more burdensome for businesses. With this reality, many potential businesses prefer to find property literally across the street rather than be subject to Cook County taxes. Because of this challenge we are looking to develop this land with a mixed-use format.

Incorporating the massive clean-up costs, the burdensome Cook County tax obligations and ensuring the Village does not lose millions of taxpayer dollars on this venture has been a challenge to say the least. Based on a plan put together by industry experts, we are strongly considering developing this land into a healthy mix of quality single-family homes, open spaces, recreation centers including parks and sports fields, as well as small neighborhood businesses.

Ideally, we would develop this land into a corporate headquarters of some sort, but given the massive clean-up costs, the burdensome Cook County tax obligations and the need for this project to be fiscally responsible for the taxpayers, we must accept the reality that the best use for this land may be a mix of single-family homes, open spaces, recreation centers and neighborhood businesses. My objective for this land is to create something that serves both a financial and community benefit to the Village.

6. Keep Tinley Park an attractive place for visitors
The Tinley Park Convention Center is owned by the Village and it is connected to the Holiday Inn, thus its stability is contingent upon the health of the Holiday Inn. As some of you may know, the intersection of 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue is where four townships and two counties meet. As a result, this area is subject to one of the most convoluted tax structures in the Chicago area.

The Holiday Inn and Convention Center are located in the Rich Township and Cook County portions of our Village and are thus subject to a property tax that is 400% larger than the property tax of those hotels just across Harlem Avenue, less than a block away. This area is currently in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, but that is set to expire next year. I will work with the Village Board, Village staff, tax experts and hotel professionals to explore various strategies to make up for this massive tax differential. Our Convention Center is an incredible asset to our Village, and I will work to solidify its success for years to come.

In conclusion
Although my plans for the Village of Tinley Park are ambitious, I know that we have the pieces at our disposal to make this vision a reality. Some of the goals that I have outlined will not come easy, but all of them are attainable.

My vision for Tinley Park is to give our public safety departments the tools to support and empower them; bring in small businesses and dynamic entrepreneurs; actualize our plans for the Downtown public plaza, as well as the South and North Street developments; institute a comprehensive modernization of the village government; arrange for the purchase of the Mental Health Center land from Illinois at a reasonable price and then develop that land; and ensure the economic stability of the Convention Center.

One of the many constants with each of these goals is the need for community input. In order for this vision to be executed in the best way possible, I need help from the community and our passionate residents. As I said on inauguration night, it takes a village to run a village. With this vision as a guiding force, I will put in the hard work, dedication and determination to move Tinley Park forward.