If nothing changes, the parking lot in downtown Elburn at the corner of Main (Route 47) and Shannon streets will close March 15.
This has caused significant concern—rightfully so—among the downtown businesses, ourselves included. It is our view that a community’s downtown serves as the backbone of that community, and anything that makes it more difficult for consumers to access downtown businesses will reduce the success of those businesses—putting some in jeopardy.
The economy is struggling to recover from the massive dip experienced a few years ago, and while there remain several empty storefronts in downtown Elburn, local customer traffic and need for parking is actually increasing. This is a sign that the local economy is starting to improve, but that improvement will take a major step back if easy access to the downtown is denied. Additionally, reduced consumer access to the downtown will make it more difficult for those remaining empty storefronts to fill up.
These challenges will make it worse for everyone in Elburn, including the village government, because reductions in local business translates to reductions in village revenue, which in turn translates to additional pressure placed on Elburn homeowners to make up the difference in the form of increasing property taxes.
Yet, all of that being said, the parking lot is private property, owned by the Community Congregational Church. The church has every right to close access to its own property. If the church’s financial situation means that the property is for sale and needs to be closed until a sale is made, that is the church’s right, and it would be hard to find a reasonable person who would reach a significantly different conclusion if they were on the church’s board of directors.
One possible solution is for the village of Elburn to purchase the lot, take over its maintenance, and retain the property’s use for general parking. However, that is not a currently viable option because the village is facing its own budget crunch.
A group of downtown business owners gathered together and attended Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting to address this issue, and the village’s financial situation was made clear by Village President David Anderson: “We don’t have the money, and that’s it,” Anderson said when asked if the village had any interest in purchasing the property.
As Monday’s discussion continued—sometimes heated and sometimes calmly—potential for alternative solutions was found. Village Administrator Erin Willrett offered to facilitate discussions between the downtown businesses and the church, and village trustee Jeff Walter expressed a desire to see the village take the lead and helping find a solution—and the rest of the Village Board echoed those sentiments as the discussion wore on.
We believe that all three entities share an interest in finding a solution to this issue. The church has financial needs that need to be met, the village needs a continuation of the growth in downtown business, and the current downtown businesses need a continuation of being able to have convenient access for their customers.
We ask that the village remain engaged in the situation, and we thank Willrett for her willingness to facilitate discussions between the various entities. We ask the village to determine if there are available funds, or funding vehicles, in the form of grants or other programs designed for economic development or municipal downtown improvement. We ask that our fellow downtown businesses continue to communicate, remain open to the various possibilities that may arise, and explore what amount of funding that they would be willing to contribute—because it is likely that whatever potential solution arises will require financial contributions from the downtown businesses themselves. Finally, we ask the board of the Community Congregational Church to determine if there is any possible way to allow the downtown parking lot to remain open during the hopefully short period of time it may take to find a solution that fulfills the needs of all the interested parties.