Can you plan suburban growth around an Amazon distribution center?

Thanks to state tax breaks, Amazon will soon begin construction on a new distribution center in northeast Aurora. The new facility is said to bring 1,000+ jobs. The latest newsletter from the City of Warrenville discusses the new facility. The facility is located near the border with Warrenville and the city thinks this will be a good for Warrenville:


Can an Amazon facility be an economic boon for a suburb, particularly in a portion of the community that is underdeveloped? At the least, the 1,000+ workers will have to live somewhere. Could there be certain facilities that pop up to serve the workers – fast food places? Gas stations? Dry cleaners? Tattoo parlors (wait, Warrenville has enough of those)? Adding students to the school system?

I’m sure the city is either working on estimates of this and it would be worth sharing with the public. Connecting the dots between a warehouse/distribution facility and other community amenities is not obvious and what is Warrenville willing to do to capitalize on this opportunity?

Illustrating problems with big retail in Naperville: push for more landscaping but offer sales tax rebate

The response from the city of Naperville to a proposal for a new Walmart in the suburb illustrates some of the issues communities face when approving big retail stores:

Councilman Grant Wehrli said he would like to see the store follow the lead of nearby Costco and Whole Foods by going “above and beyond” the city’s landscaping requirements.

“I would love to have Walmart come in, but I’m concerned about the landscaping. What I would like to see done there is for Walmart to follow the lead of the other two developments, literally across the two streets, and go above and beyond with the landscaping. It’s relatively inexpensive and the benefit to society is massive,” Wehrli said. “If we go to the higher standard of landscaping, we’re not just going to be like the Walmart in Buffalo Grove. It’s going to take that intersection to a higher level.”…

Wal-Mart representative Aaron Matson called the timing of the request “eleventh-hour,” but said they were doing the best they can to address the concerns…

“If we’re not careful with what we’re asking for, they may decide to say, ‘Hey, let’s move right across the street (to Aurora),” Krause said…

Wal-Mart officials still hope to break ground this year on the store that has also been awarded a $1.75 rebate in sales tax revenues over 10 years.

Here is how I interpret this:

1. The community is concerned with how Walmart looks and how it fits in with the nearby Springbrook Forest Preserve. Naperville has its share of ugly retail stretches, notably Ogden Avenue east of Washington Street and Route 59 south of the Burlington Northern tracks. In order to present a nicer image befitting of a wealthier suburb, Walmart needs to add some landscaping and go beyond typical requirements. I am amused by the comparison to Buffalo Grove. According to the Walmart Store Locator, there is no Walmart in Buffalo Grove though there is one very close by in Wheeling. Regardless, Naperville doesn’t want to have any run of the mill Walmart; they want one that reflects Naperville and helps distinguish it on the higher end from other suburbs.

2. Yet, the city may not be able to push the landscaping requests too far because Walmart could still locate their new store in nearby Aurora. In other words, the city has to offer a sales tax rebate because it cannot pass up this revenue source. Naperville officials may be particularly attuned to this because Naperville has lost retail business to Aurora before. In one notable case, the developer for the Fox Valley Mall played Naperville and Aurora against each other in the early 1970s, Naperville was less willing to budge, and the mall was built just across Route 59 in Aurora.

Overall, the community needs the tax money Walmart generates but they also want the store to be presentable. Such are the tensions today regarding big box stores.

Occupy Wall Street in Naperville

National coverage of the Occupy Wall Street groups has emphasized the city gatherings. But Occupy Wall Street has even made it to conservative Naperville:

About 50 people joined the event, forming a group just slightly larger than the one gathered outside a nearby Apple Store, for demonstrations modeled after the Occupy Wall Street encampment that began last month in lower Manhattan.

Organizers said they will return each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon until their demands are met. It’s a list that includes increased regulation of banks, rollbacks on the rights of corporations and forgiveness for student loans…

“Well, there’s at least a couple dozen people over there, and there’s what? Maybe (140,000) people here in town? I’d say that’s probably an accurate representation” of support for the demonstrators’ agenda, said Eloe, grinning.

Alesch began planning the event last week with a few friends at a Wheaton coffee shop after hearing about an Occupy Aurora demonstration.

This reminds me of research I’ve seen regarding the diffusion of riots in the 1960s. How widespread are the Occupy Wall Street protests? Is it unusual to find one in a suburb like Naperville that has over 140,000 residents? Are suburbanites more or less likely to support the movement?

If this group continues to protest in Naperville, it will be interesting to see how onlookers and the community responds. An Occupy Aurora protest might make more sense since Aurora is more diverse and less wealthy. But would a continuing protest in Naperville draw more attention?

Naperville, Aurora mayors among those who voted for Illinois toll increase

Amidst news that Illinois tollway directors voted today to raise tolls for a $12 billion capital project (see my earlier thoughts here), I noticed that Naperville Mayor George Pradel is involved:

But a majority of Illinois State Toll Highway Authority leaders said the move is crucial to repair existing roads and build some new ambitious projects such as the long-delayed Elgin-O’Hare Expressway extension into O’Hare International Airport and a western bypass road around the airport. The capital plan will create about 120,000 permanent jobs and ease congestion, officials said.

“My heart goes out to those going through tough times and that have lost jobs. One side effect of this is that it will enhance the economy in northern Illinois over 15 years,” said Naperville Mayor and tollway director George Pradel, who voted for the toll increase.

The decision didn’t come quietly — one board director called the move too hasty and proposed a scaled-back version.

Director Bill Morris of Grayslake, the only dissenter in today’s vote, thinks the toll authority could carry out a 10-year capital plan with a 15-cent increase at a 40-cent toll plaza now with more hikes expected later.

You can see the profiles of the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors here. Having never looked at these profiles, I was intrigued: Pradel is joined by the current mayor of Aurora as well as well a number of businessmen and two female public servants (one from education, one from Cook County government). On the whole, it seems like the directors bought into the economic development argument: good tollways, whether that means improved roadways or new roadways, will help northeastern Illinois prosper.

But looking at the backgrounds of this group, I wonder how many also were influenced by how better roadways might help their community or business interests. While this is not necessarily bad – indeed, northeastern Illinois needs businesses and jobs – it is a different perspective than the common driver might have. (And since this is Illinois, I assume there is some political process behind this board. Still, no “citizen” members?) Take Mayor Pradel: was his vote solely for northeastern Illinois and/or is this quite beneficial for Naperville? The regional argument is interesting (and I’m sure the job and economic estimates could be debated) but I would be interested in hearing about how local interests affected this vote.

Daily Herald highlights “immigrants moving to suburbs”

Focusing primarily on population growth in Aurora (read here about how Aurora is now the second largest city in Illinois), the Daily Herald says more immigrants are moving to the suburbs:

The trend of immigrants heading directly to American suburbs instead of starting in a major city intensified from 2000 to 2010 — and was one factor in Illinois’ 32.5 percent increase in Hispanic population in that period, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

Demographers say they aren’t just seeing it around Chicago. The same thing is happening around other major cities that have long been entry points for immigrants, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For many Hispanics in northern Illinois, Aurora supplanted Chicago as a cultural hub, and the growth has transformed smaller and smaller towns.

As I’ve noted before (see here as an example), this is quite a change for many American suburbs. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how the residents already living in these suburbs respond. Additionally, community leaders will have to respond as well. Based on some of the comments regarding this news story, it appears that there might be some people who are unhappy with these changes.

Aurora now second largest city in Illinois

The population growth in the Chicago suburbs has shifted from Naperville (in the 1980s and 1990s) to communities further west and south. In particular, Aurora grew during the 2000s and is now Illinois’ second largest city:

[T]he Alperins are among the nearly 55,000 new residents since 2000 who helped Aurora boost its population to 197,899 and officially eclipse Rockford as Illinois’ second-largest city, according to the recently released 2010 U.S. census figures.

Aurora’s 54,909 jump was the largest among Illinois cities. Its percentage increase of 38.4 percent was just behind top-ranked Joliet, which grew at a 38.8 percent pace to 147,433 and beat out Naperville as Illinois’ fourth-largest community.

The growth comes as Aurora makes strides resurrecting what had become a struggling downtown and boasts of statistics that show the city’s major crime rate is at its lowest in more than three decades. The physical size of the city also has grown to accommodate more people. Aurora has three times as many square miles as it had four decades ago.

There are several reasons that the community has grown including a growing Hispanic population and open land in a growing region of the Chicago suburbs. But the city has also dramatically expanded in size:

Aurora, meanwhile, now covers 46 square miles compared with 35 in 1990 and 15 in 1970. It sprawls through four counties, six school districts and seven townships. But like Naperville in the last decade, the city could eventually be boxed in by neighbors, Greene said. And there’s also no guarantee that brisk growth from the 1990s through part of the 2000s will repeat when the economy improves.

The explanation for why Aurora is growing is very similar to what led to Naperville’s growth between 1960 and 2000: it is located near highways, it has a number of businesses, and there is plenty of room to expand and the city has annexed a lot of land. But as Naperville discovered, the growth only goes on for so long: eventually, the land runs out and then Aurora will become a different kind of place. As the end of the article notes, the long-term course of the city will likely include denser development near the center of the city.

At the same time, Naperville and Aurora’s growth are not quite the same: Naperville has long had a wealthier profile compared to Aurora’s status as an industrial satellite city (named as such in this 1915 work).  During the 1980s and 1990s, Naperville’s growth was quite unusual: Naperville was classified as the only boomburb outside of the South or West during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Naperville is quite well-off for a large community, has a history of high-tech companies dating back to the mid-1960s, has very low crime and poverty rates, and has a vibrant and popular downtown.

It will be interesting to watch in the coming years how Aurora, Joliet, Plainfield, and other suburbs in the southwest suburbs continue to grow.