New Lenox, Illinois
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from New Lenox, IL, as part of our focus on best practices of American towns and cities.
New Lenox is a Village in Will County Illinois, located on Interstate 80 with interchanges at I-355 and US Route 30, some 31 miles southwest of Chicago. Although the area was originally settled in the late 1820s, and became a township in 1852, the Village of New Lenox was not officially incorporated until 1946. Today, New Lenox is a thriving community of approximately 28,000 that is constantly growing its rich mixture of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. In fact, in 2019, the Village issued a total of $68.9 million worth of new building permits – $44M in new residential development; $13.6M in commercial development; $5.6 in industrial development; and $5.7 in institutional development.
“We consider ourselves a very progressive community because we are very pro-business,” says Economic Development Coordinator, Nancy Dye. “For example, we had 34 new businesses open in 2019, and we have had approximately 1,000 residential housing permits issued in the last five years. We have an expedited review process for projects, and it doesn’t take a month to get a permit. We want people to come here, so we’re not going to let red tape slow them down. We also have many community events to engage our residents and businesses to make them feel that we want them to enjoy living and working here. We make development happen because we have a vision of how we want New Lenox to grow and that vision is for more families, more events, and more housing. That is what the Village Board strives for.”
One of New Lenox’s key institutions is the 300-bed Silver Cross Hospital. “It was actually a hospital in Joliet that built a brand new facility and relocated to New Lenox in 2012,” explains Assistant Village Administrator and Community Development Director, Robin Ellis. “In addition to the hospital, itself, there’s been over half-a-million square feet of other medical offices in other buildings around it. So, it’s turned into a nice medical campus. And it’s a successful hospital because they’re building a 60,000-sq.-ft. addition with a neonatal ICU, and they just got approval to do open heart surgery, so they need to build the OR space for that, as well.”
Other notable businesses in New Lenox include a Michael’s distribution warehouse for Michael’s Stores; Starcon International, a full-service contractor offering comprehensive industrial and mechanical services in the refining, chemical, natural gas processing, and food and beverage industries; Impact Fulfillment Services, a company servicing all facets of outsourcing fulfillment; Titan Steel, an independent global distributor specializing in tin mill products, flat rolled steel products, and related light-gauge, surface-critical steel and metal products; Metrie, the largest supplier and manufacturer of solid wood and composite molding in North America; and Automann, a premier global distributor of aftermarket truck and trailer chassis components. All of these companies operate out of the Cherry Hill Business Park which straddles New Lenox and Joliet, and is actively looking for new tenants.
Ellis reports that over the years, the Village has also helped to revitalize some older or outdated commercial areas. “We had a commercial area on Route 30 that was comprised of four underperforming businesses,” she relates. “The Village assembled the parcels and demolished the structures, and, now, we’ve got a brand new CVS Pharmacy and a multi-tenant building that’s going to be a Joey’s Red Hots restaurant and a Starbucks. So, we took something that was relatively underperforming, put the pieces together, found a developer, and turned that around.”
“We did a similar thing further east on Route 30,” she continues. “It was a vacant piece of property, and in order to make the financials work and get the tenants that we wanted, we purchased the property. We’ve got a Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant that’s been open a little over a year, and this year, Pete’s Fresh Market should break ground on the remainder of it.”
New Lenox’s substantial retail base also includes all of the well-known big box stores and fast-service restaurant chains. And because the Village collects about $12 million in sales taxes, annually, its property tax rate is not high. “Most of our property tax bill goes to the school district,” Ellis explains. “And we actually have a homeowner rebate program, where homeowners are getting 80 percent of their Village property taxes back. Our main revenue comes from the sales taxes.”
Another advantage of living in New Lenox is the 38 parks and athletic fields comprising 588 acres that are maintained by the New Lenox Community Park District. There is also a number of paved asphalt and crushed gravel trails. Old Plank Road Trail is a 21-mile, former railroad right-of-way, converted into an asphalt hiking and biking nature trail that travels through the heart of New Lenox with many access points along the way. The Hickory Creek Nature Preserve has a 2.8-mile, asphalt hiking and biking nature trail which also provides access to the historic one-room Schmuhl School Museum on the northeast corner of Route 30 and Schoolhouse Road, owned and operated by the New Lenox Historical Society. Additionally, the Hadley Valley Preserve offers a unique 4.85-mile, crushed-gravel Spring Creek Greenway Trail that welcomes pedestrians and equestrians.
While New Lenox doesn’t have a discernible downtown, it does have The Commons, which serves as the heart of the community. “The Village Hall, the library, and the police department are all located on the ring road, and in the center is a four-acre park, where we have the Performing Arts Pavilion that hosts most of our community events,” Ellis notes. Each year, the Village organizes a Summer Performing Arts Program, which includes the Triple Play Concert Series, featuring national recording artists performing on three different dates, as well as free family movie nights. The Park District hosts the annual Proud American Days festival the last weekend in July, which includes food vendors, carnival rides, a craft show, and live music. The Annual Kids Fest includes a day filled with fun activities just for kids, and the Chamber of Commerce’s Halloween Parade & Costume Contest features frightful fun for hundreds of area families.
“With regards to infrastructure and other municipal projects, we invest a lot back into our facilities, especially our utilities,” Ellis adds. “A lot of our water mains in the older areas are the original mains, so in 2018, we did a major water main replacement along our main north/south corridor. This past year, we awarded the bid to do a water main replacement and upsizing from eight inches to twelve inches on the water main along Route 30. We continually invest and reinvest in paving our streets; we rehabilitate about seven miles of road every year. The biggest thing we have going on, now, is we’re in the design stage of building a new wastewater treatment facility. Right now, we are operating three separate wastewater treatment facilities, one of which is right in the middle of our town and another is right in the middle of a residential area. So, the Village Board made the decision to purchase land on our fringe and we’re going to be building a brand new, state-of-the-art facility that will have a lot of sustainable functions built into it. Then, we will take the other three offline.
“And we are just breaking ground on a new Metra Station, which is our commuter rail. We actually have two, but we are rebuilding the one that’s the oldest in the center of town and relocating it. The platform and station are very close to a street crossing, and when you have 20-plus trains going through there, it causes a lot of traffic disruption. We’re relocating it further away from that road so that the gates don’t have to stay down while the train is loading and unloading.” Construction of the new Metra Station, including an extended platform, is slated to be completed by November 2020. A new parking lot configuration is expected to be completed by July 2021. “Our former train station was a historic landmark – that’s how old it was,” notes Dye. “This one will be state-of-the-art. It’s quite a step up from what we had.”
As New Lenox continues to grow, Ellis says that the Village sees itself as a partner in its development and not just a regulatory body that dictates where and how things get done. “And what has impressed me about New Lenox is that as we’ve grown, we haven’t lost that small community feel,” she states. “People say ‘Hi’ to each other on the street. We have a very active business community; we have many social events; we have people participating. We don’t have a lot of controversy. We have a very united Village Board; they share a vision and that has truly been an asset.” “We’ve also had the same mayor, Tim Baldermann, for 12 years,” adds Dye. “He wants the Board to work together and he leads by example.” “Our residents are great,” says Ellis, in conclusion. “They support us, they support our local businesses, and they support each other.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: New Lenox, Illinois
WHAT: A village of 28,000
WHERE: In Will County Illinois, 31 miles southwest of Chicago