Highland Park council hopefuls field queries
City Council candidates (left to right) Kim Stone, Alyssa Knobel, Daniel Kaufman, William Dytrych (holding microphone) and Carolyn Cerf address the Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood Monday. Bob Crimo was unable to appear. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 26, 2013 2:37PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Questions about the shuttered Highland Park Theater, property taxes and downtown vacancies were pitched to candidates running for the Highland Park City Council during their first joint appearance of the 2013 election cycle.
The five candidates who appeared at the Rotary Club of Highland Park-Highwood Monday were Carolyn Cerf, William Dytrych, Daniel Kaufman, Alyssa Knobel and Kim Stone. A sixth candidate, Robert Crimo, was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. The six are vying for three seats in the April 9 election, with early voting starting on March 25.
One questioner asked Dytrych his thoughts on the future of theater, which the city purchased for $2.1 million in 2009 and abruptly closed in mid-2012 after code violations came to light. A chosen developer, whose exclusive agreement with the city expires Feb. 28, is proposing to create a mixed-use development with condominiums and retail space, along with a rehabilitated performing arts venue. The proposal will require a significant investment from the city.
“At this point, the city is looking at a development deal that is going to cause the city to incur some type of a loss,” said Dytrych, who worked in real estate development and served 9 1/2 years on the Highland Park Plan Commission.
The candidate said it may be time to reopen the proposal process without the theater requirement. “Give them an opportunity to come back with the best proposal overall for the city. It may not even include a theater. That would be unfortunate,” he said.
Cerf, who is making a second run for the council, offered another view.
“I believe the theater element should be included, and that is not just for sentimental reasons,” said Cerf, who works in government relations for Walgreen Co. “I do believe that having an arts space … will bring entertainment dollars to Highland Park. It will bring food dollars to Highland Park and retail dollars.
“I believe there is a market out there and we need to find the developers to do this project.”
Stone said the theater provided an important anchor for the east end of downtown, and businesses have lost out since the theater was closed. “I hope something will be developed of an appropriate scale,” said Stone, noting there is a residential neighborhood right next door to the business district.
Kaufman, the sole incumbent in the race, said he will not support the theater development if it is not sustainable. “I don’t want the city and you, the taxpayers, to bear the burden and to waste our precious resources.”
Kaufman was appointed to the council seat of Nancy Rotering in 2011 after her election as mayor.
On the issue of business vacancies, Kaufman said the city is working to streamline its approval and regulatory processes to make it easier to do business in Highland Park. On the upside, he said the city is on the verge of announcing some new businesses locating in Highland Park.
Knobel was asked about the city’s high property taxes by a resident who relocated from Northbrook two years ago. She responded that the property tax structure varies greatly between Cook and Lake counties.
“Economic development does help to keep our property taxes in check,” said Knobel, who currently chairs the city’s Business and Economic Development Commission. “We are very sales-tax driven,” she said, noting that sales tax revenues account for 42 percent of the city’s general fund. She said the commission and city staff are working to develop a strategic economic development plan.
“We are kind of shooting in the dark right now,” Knobel observed.
Crimo did not appear, but provided a short statement outlining a platform that included improving the vibrancy of the downtown and Ravinia business districts and “striking a balance between what is necessary, what can be consolidated and what is pure comfort.” Crimo is the owner of Bob’s Pantry and Deli in the Braeside business district.