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New market analysis provides data needed to make downtown Elgin a destination for visitors and residents


Elgin’s downtown revitalization strategy has been geared toward attracting out-of-town visitors, but a new market analysis shows it needs to market it as a destination for Elgin residents as well.

Main Street America is doing the work for the Elgin Downtown Neighborhood Association, which it will use to create a new strategy to revitalize downtown Elgin, officials said.

Main Street, a nonprofit organization that helps communities revitalize their downtowns, collected demographic and household income data and conducted a community-wide survey to gather information on what people would like to see downtown.

DNA board Vice Chairman Brian Piñon said the results prove a hunch he’s had for a while.

“We can build a livable, economically active downtown to support the population around the downtown area,” he said. “I think there’s a mentality that Elgin wants things it can’t afford. But this is absolutely not true.”

According to the study, households within a 10- to 20-minute drive from the city center have a median income of $90,000 to $100,000. Data shows that 20 percent of households within a five-minute walk have incomes of $150,000.

“Whether it’s retail, restaurant or entertainment, you have to be able to show that there’s a market here.” said Piñon. “These figures show that there is a market out there and it is not yet tapped.

“(Using this data, DNA) can make informed decisions about how to shape space,” he said. “We can turn this into a space that people want and enjoy. “Once the pieces fall into place, we will have a very vibrant downtown.”

But the Main Street analysis said they also need to address the feeling that not everyone feels safe in downtown Elgin.

When asked if they felt comfortable, comfortable and safe in and around the city centre, approximately 25% said they did not.

A different survey question asked respondents what they didn’t like about the city centre. Their top answers: Empty storefronts, lack of retail, presence of homeless people and lack of security.

Piñon said DNA is working on long-term solutions to solve some problems downtown, such as the homeless population, but immediate improvements can be made, such as adding lights to dark streets and making the area feel warmer.

“There is perception and reality,” he said. “The truth is that the city center is safe. You can wander around there.”

Main Street found that overall, the downtown area has character, charm and an “artistic and creative vibe for both businesses and residents.” The analysis found that new and existing property owners and developers are eager to invest in the historic downtown, and DNA has a thriving farmers market.

When it comes to what people want to see downtown, survey results found that respondents would like to see a broader range of restaurants, including breweries/wineries, casual restaurants, pubs and fine dining.

“I would love to see more restaurants in the area,” said Piñon, who lives within walking distance of downtown.

Overall, he was impressed with the breadth of experience Main Street America brings to the table. “The process was analytical and well thought out,” he said.

DNA Executive Director Jennifer Fukala agrees.

“There was feedback that really validated certain aspects we were trying to take. “There were also some new perspectives,” he said. “I’m excited about this. The board is excited. “New things will come out of this.”

Fukala said DNA will use market analysis as a guide over the next three to five years when determining priorities. A key goal this year, he said, is advocating for the expansion of the county’s Tax Increment Financing Zone, which expires next year and is vital to redevelopment efforts.

Fukala also said DNA has applied to become a designated Main Street America community, which would give it access to more resources.

Piñon said he believes the process they go through and what they do with the information collected will be key to bringing more people downtown.

“We’re really close to a critical mass there, a massive sea change,” he said.

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.


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