Last week’s visioning session with the Village Council provided another step forward in refining what exactly the issues and opportunities are for Winnetka’s business districts. The evening began with a brief overview of plan items to date presented by Erin Cigliano, project planner with Teska Associates. The summary included outreach components, website statistics, meeting overviews, documents, and next steps. Click here to view the presentation.
Following the presentation, Michael Blue, project principal with Teska Associates, introduced a group visioning exercise. Existing conditions statements were read for each of the three districts: Downtown Elm, Hubbard Woods, and Indian Hill. The statements were approximately 4-6 sentences in length and focused on the primary elements that make up each district’s look, feel, and use. Following such, council members discussed what was right, wrong and missing about each statement and what components should be focused on when considering the future, i.e. drafting of the 2025 vision statements.
Below is a synopsis of the topics identified by Village Council members:
Downtown Elm Street District
Downtown Elm serves as the municipal campus and center of government in Winnetka. It is a walkable district, but one that is divided by Green Bay. There is a tendency among residents to drive rather than walk between the east and west sides of Elm, the reasons for which are varied. Some council members attributed this to the ease of parking in the district, whereas others mentioned that the intersection isn’t entirely safe to cross – especially for kids. Those who mentioned they more commonly walk to and from either side of Elm Street, generally lived near Downtown and had become accustom to such.
Discussion also centered on the appearance of structures. While the historic nature of buildings is cherished in some regards (i.e. Village Hall), many of the older structures are dilapidated and in need of maintenance. The physical look and style of architecture is certainly important but the buildings have to be functional and attractive as well. In looking towards the future, the style of architecture, whether it be buildings old or new, should be maintained, refurbished, redeveloped, or built such that it is complimentary to the Village’s upscale, historic integrity but also functional and attractive to tenants. In terms of district constraints, council members noted the size of spaces being physically small and limiting relative to the types of tenants they can attract. The need for (more) stores that cater to residents’ basic needs was also noted.
The district discussion for Elm Street ended with a focus on, “How do we make downtown more vibrant?”. Considerations included, increasing housing so there are more residents and foot-traffic; upgrading spaces and promoting Winnetka via targeted marketing; and providing more parking so the Village can appeal to a great mass of users.
Hubbard Woods District
Council members noted that Hubbard Woods needs more anchor-style tenants or “draws” to attract users and fill vacancies. Being that the size of spaces cater to small tenants, and in some cases first-time business owners, it was noted that the Village should consider providing small-business resources and training sessions to help increase success rates. In comparison to Downtown, the buildings in Hubbard Woods are slightly taller and directly adjacent to each other (denser).
In terms of looking ahead, council members noted that what they desire depends on the “trade-offs”. For example, promoting historic character is only good if the area is functional and vacancies are filled. In regards to users and types of uses, members confirmed that the area attracted both design oriented tenants and window shoppers, as well as families and students via the Hubbard Woods Park (festivals) and Sacred Heart School. The northern end of the district was noted as being more family-oriented with the southern end more design focused. The need for a variety of dining options and a place for teens to go (reference made to Panera) was also raised.
Indian Hill District
The Indian Hill Business District serves as the southern entry / gateway into the Village. Members relayed that the gateway is an opportunity to celebrate the Village’s identity and that while this is typically relayed via welcome signage, landscaping and the physical appearance of buildings and streetscaping should work to further this identity. Parking was also addressed as a major component to the district relative to New Trier’s student population and after-school activities. The question was raised as to whether or not the Indian Hill parking lot should be redeveloped into a raised parking structure with a retail / restaurant component. The last topic noted was whether there is the possibility for additional residential / condos within district to address the housing needs of empty nesters.