Church’s plan to close parking lot stirs business owners into action
by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—For anybody coming through Elburn on a given day, it’s noticeable that the downtown is experiencing a boon. The streets are lined with parked cars, and the lot on the corner of Shannon and Main Streets is nearly full. The merchants couldn’t be happier with the rise in the number of customers coming to their establishments. But when the church that owns the property announced its decision to close the lot to public parking, effective March 15, downtown business owners knew that something needed to be done-and fast—to continue to provide convenient parking for their patrons. They got together on Monday afternoon, talked the problem over and attended the Elburn village meeting that evening to ask the village for help.
“When the merchants met, I asked, ‘Where’s everybody going to park?’” Business owner Kevin Schmidt said. “We’ve got a good downtown going. We feel the village needs to buy the lot.”
Other business owners reiterated the uptick in business that Elburn is experiencing.
“Elburn used to look like a ghost town,” Wiley Overly said. “Now we’re starting to get out-of-town money. We’re getting local money. There are a lot of jobs downtown. We’re on the cusp of something very good right now. It (closing the lot) could be fatal to what’s going on, and when it’s gone, there’s no replacing it.”
Elburn Herald owner and editor Ryan Wells commented that closing the lot would create a chain reaction.
“We would have to park in potential customers’ spots. The only spots they’d have would be taken up by employees who hope to have their business,” Wells said. “It’s our consensus that the village needs to get involved in some shape or form.”
Schmidt said that if the 40-space lot closes, that leaves 30 spaces on the street and a parking lot behind his business that he owns. The other lots are farther than most people will want to walk. Village President Dave Anderson countered by saying that people walk farther than that to shop at Geneva Commons.
Anderson made it clear that the village doesn’t have money to purchase the lot. According to Church Moderator Sharon Lackey, both the village and the Chamber of Commerce turned down their offer to sell them the property several months ago.
“We don’t have the funds. It’s pretty hard to justify to the taxpayers of Elburn to buy a parking lot. I know how critical parking is, but it’s private property,” Anderson said. “If the Village Board decides to do it, that’s fine, but I think it’s a mistake. Is it the taxpayers’ responsibility to provide parking for businesses?”
Trustee Jeff Walter suggested that the village use its resources to lead the movement to keep the lot open and provide some direction toward a solution that both parties could agree to.
Several people offered possible solutions, such as checking into grants and redevelopment or financial vehicles, a lease-to-own option while charging patrons to park, and a land swap with the village.
“There are a million different options involving the chamber and the businesses. We’re not ready for solutions yet. We need to put direction and structure around it,” Walter said.
Village Administrator Erin Willrett volunteered to coordinate a public meeting between the business owners and the church to talk about what could be done to keep the lot open.
“We all agree that having downtown parking is important,” Wells said. “We’re seeking engagement and acknowledgement that the Village is concerned.”