Park Ridge biz leaders hope to use top-transit rating to foster ‘destination city’
Commuters come home to Park Ridge, which has been named one of the Top 20 transit suburbs, Aug. 3. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 12:46PM
PARK RIDGE — The city of Park Ridge recently enjoyed local recognition as a “top transit suburb” from a DePaul University-based institute focused on metropolitan development.
But does having a train station within walking distance of a number of amenities, not to mention connectivity to other modes of public transportation, benefit the city in economic ways?
For Mayor David Schmidt and Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce Director Gail Haller, answering such a question is difficult.
“It’s really hard to quantify it,” Schmidt said. “I do know that I see people getting off the train with their lawn chairs to attend our Friday-night concerts, so right there you know there are people coming in from other towns who are using public transportation. But I don’t know how many of those people come at other times to shop in Park Ridge.”
The Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development ranked Park Ridge 13 out of the Top 20 suburbs with commuter-rail service. The report noted the city’s Uptown Metra station provides commuters with easy access to shopping, restaurants and the Park Ridge Public Library.
Haller believes there are “definitely economic benefits to be had” by being a “top transit suburb,” but she, too, said there is currently no way of knowing if the Metra train — and the passengers it might carry from other communities — are indeed bringing fresh revenue into the city.
Haller said she would interested to find out if that is the case and doesn’t believe there has been a recent study on the impact of the city’s public transportation and economics.
“I wish I knew how many people actually did come specifically on the train to shop,” she said.
Haller added that she “hadn’t really given it a whole lot of thought on how to capitalize” on the Chaddick Institute’s ranking of the city.
Schmidt indicated that the economic benefit of public transportation is an area of focus he would like to see the city’s Economic Development Task Force study. The group of citizens and business representatives was formed to create an economic plan for the city and establish ways the city can draw in new businesses.
“I’d be interested to hear from them if there’s a way to quantify what our public transportation means to us and hopefully be able to exploit it to help increase our revenues,” Schmidt said.
Area shop owner Jeff Scialabba, of Garden on the Run, 108 Main St., doesn’t need a quantifiable study of numbers. Located directly across from the Metra station, the fruit-and-produce shop draws train commuters as they pick up a few ingredients for an evening meal, Scialabba said.
“In the evening it’s a bazaar. People are coming immediately off the train,” he said.
Though the morning commute doesn’t generate the same kind of crowds, afternoon traffic often keeps the shop open past 7 p.m.
“In the evening it’s a very nice last hour and 25 minutes of business,” said Scialabba, who’s convinced the train station benefits his business.
Sheila Duda, owner of Tea Lula, 11 Fairview Ave., said she doesn’t see the same type of train-commuter interest, as her shop’s hours fall outside peak travel times. But as a member of the Chamber of the Commerce’s Retail Committee she believes a “top transit ranking” is a good way to market the city and it will “definitely” be on the agenda for the group’s September meeting.
“If we can let more commuters know what’s available right off the tracks, that would be a wonderful thing,” Duda said.
Despite beliefs that the Metra station has the potential of an economic booster, a number of businesses along Main Street remain vacant. Haller acknowledged that she is concerned about commuters seeing so many empty storefronts.
“We are looking at different ways to perhaps make the windows not look so empty,” she said.
Fourth Ward Alderman Sal Raspanti, council liaison to the city’s Economic Development Task Force, said elected officials need to look at ways to “get consumers to choose Park Ridge” over other communities.
“I probably have some ideas,” he said, though he declined to share specifics. “I really like the approach we are taking through the Economic Development Task Force. I look forward to hearing those recommendations and I look forward to the City Council acting on those recommendations.”
Haller, who also serves on the Economic Development Task Force, explained that the Chamber is trying to make Park Ridge a “destination” city.
The Metra was used in July to transport citizens between Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect to check out the many decorated butterfly sculptures, all with a hope of encouraging citizens to attend Park Ridge events, like the Hodges Park summer concert series or the upcoming Pizza Fest in September, and shop in the city.