Wheeling officials have given a preliminary green light to a massive redevelopment that will create a downtown center for the village, although the extent of government-backed financial incentives for the project hasn't been fully decided.
At a meeting in August, the village board voted to support the conceptual plan for the Wheeling Town Center project led by Chicago-based Urban R2 Development Company.
The newest vote means the village will negotiate the full terms of the redevelopment project, plans for which are expected to be finalized in April or May, officials said.
If the deal is finalized, the first construction phase—expected to start next summer—will be for a five-story luxury apartment building with 300 units and a new movie theater, said Jon Sfondilis, Wheeling's village manager.
Officials hope the nearly 100,000 square feet of retail shops also will help create a restaurant and shopping scene in the area near Dundee Road and Northgate Parkway.
The project is being touted as a $100 million redevelopment of the former Wickes Furniture site, according to a release from the developer.
The 19-acre lot was home to the company's corporate headquarters, showroom and warehouse. In 2008, Wickes went out of business and the village bought the site for $3.7 million.
It's now expected that the village will give away the entire property to the developer as part of the yet-to-be-finalized redevelopment agreement.
The village is seeking a condition that the developer first secure tenants before starting construction on the retail portion of the development, something Sfondilis said will help avoid empty storefronts in the new downtown.
"What the village is trying to do is protect the project, to ensure that before construction, the leases are in place for immediate occupancy," he said.
Developers said in the release that they have secured a commitment from a major theater as the anchor tenant, with the yogurt shop Red Mango and restaurateur Glenn Keefer having also committed.
The village expects to contribute tax increment financing district money to the project, which will be built within an existing TIF district.
In a tax increment financing district, bodies that get money from property taxes — such as school districts and village governments — see a freeze in revenue. Over the life of the district, tax revenue above that freeze amount is put into an account to be used to encourage growth in the area, through efforts including giving tax breaks to new businesses. The idea is that money used to revitalize the area will ultimately mean increased property values and long-term economic development.
The existing Wheeling TIF district includes just two houses and no schools, something Sfondilis said will soften the impact on the rest of the community.
The village also is resetting the district's property values ahead of the project.
"I think the community is excited about seeing new development in town and certainly, the idea of creating a downtown, the community recognizes the importance of that," Sfondilis said, noting that there has been no community opposition so far, despite push-back being common with TIF incentives.
The proposed site is adjacent to both the Wheeling Metra train station and the municipal campus, including the village hall, park district recreation center, Heritage Park and the aquatic center.
"It is a great location," Sfondilis said. "When you live there, you'll have walking access to all of it."
Wheeling has never had a true downtown, Sfondilis said, because suburban downtowns are typically built around train stations and Wheeling didn't get rail service until the late 1990s.