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updated: 3/29/2021 1:42 PM

Mundelein mayoral candidates disagree on downtown redevelopment approach

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  • Video: Mundelein mayoral interview

 
 

Mundelein's four mayoral candidates agree that progress is being made in the longtime effort to redevelop the downtown area -- but they don't all agree on the approach.

Incumbent Steve Lentz is being challenged by village trustees Dawn Abernathy and Robin Meier and Mundelein High School District 120 board member Tom Ouimet in the April 6 election.

They spoke about downtown redevelopment and other issues in a joint interview with the Daily Herald.

Mundelein's downtown area generally is bounded by Route 176 to the north and Route 45 to the west, but its other boundaries aren't as obvious. It contains a mix of commercial and residential properties.

Officials have been trying to improve the area for decades. They've tried relatively small, aesthetic improvements such as the installation of planters and decorative light posts. They've also tried larger projects, like selling the old village hall to a commercial developer and demolishing unsightly industrial buildings as precursors to redevelopment.

A lot of the big work has occurred during Lentz's tenure, which began in 2013.

"I think we're doing a great job with our downtown," he said. "We're just getting momentum, really getting going."

Lentz said more redevelopment is coming and cited several pending residential projects. The plan, he said, is to increase residential density while greenlighting shops and restaurants within walking distance.

That's the development model in communities across the country, Lentz said.

Meier, who served as trustee from 2008 to 2015 and rejoined the board in 2017, said a lot of "excellent" progress has been made downtown. But she also said there have been lost opportunities in the neighborhood, although she didn't cite specifics.

Meier believes officials need to create a list of all the downtown redevelopment projects and their funding sources and prioritize them. She also said village hall needs to better define the boundaries of the downtown area.

Ouimet agreed that officials must better identify the downtown's borders.

Ouimet, a Mundelein High School District 120 board member since 2017, said he's impressed by the redevelopment of the old village hall site, calling it a "glimmer of hope." Conversely, he complained about the abundance of new residential developments in the neighborhood.

Ouimet was especially critical of a low-income housing development in the area.

"There's a place for that," he said. "But you don't put it in a vital district."

Unlike Meier and Ouimet, Abernathy said the downtown area has defined borders and an obvious epicenter at Park Street and Seymour Avenue.

"I think we've done a pretty good job ... making a commitment to developing that area," said Abernathy, a trustee since 2013.

Acknowledging the emphasis on residential development, Abernathy said she'll assign an employee to "go out and look for new businesses" if elected mayor. Abernathy pledged to personally bolster that mission if elected.

Like Ouimet, Abernathy disagreed with the residential-heavy redevelopment efforts downtown. "We have to have a strip of retail (stores) to go with that," she said.

Abernathy also suggested converting a former water department building on Chicago Avenue into a civic center and relocating the Mundelein Heritage Museum from its current location on Noel Drive to the downtown area.