Façade Improvement Programs

Façade Improvement Programs:
Getting the Private Sector Involved in Downtown Revitalization

Authors: Craig Hullinger, AICP and Diane Gormely-Barnes, AICP

A Facade Improvement Program can be a cost effective method of encouraging private sector reinvestment in older commercial areas. A program will usually provide partial funding for appropriate facade improvements that both enhance the appearance of the building and contribute to the overall character of an historic commercial area or central business district (CBD), most often as part of a larger improvement program.

The Village of Tinley Park, Illinois undertook a transit-oriented development (TOD) plan in 1998 that was sponsored by the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois (RTA). The RTA’s Regional Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) provided matching funds for the development of the plan. The TOD plan was essentially a downtown improvement plan, focusing on enhancements to the train station area within the historic commercial core of the community. The community planning process, led by the Chicago-based planning firm of Camiros, Ltd., resulted in recommendations to enhance the appearance and viability of the “Old Town” area along Oak Park Avenue, adjacent to the Metra station.

Train stations were the focus of many communities when rail transport was king. The CBD of Tinley Park developed around the train station, a stop on the famous Rock Island Line. Most businesses and homes were within easy walking distance of the train station. As the town grew and the auto became dominant, wider modern roads diverted traffic away from the historic commercial buildings adjacent to the train tracks. The station area declined in importance and became a minor center relative to the large commercial centers developed at the intersections of major roads elsewhere in Tinley Park. The Village became concerned about the deterioration of “Old Town” and also recognized that some of the buildings no longer exhibited a character appropriate for an historic area, due to modern era renovations.

The TOD plan included numerous proposed improvements to Metra facilities, and also many landscaping, streetscaping and marketing enhancements. The Village and Metra have moved aggressively to implement the public sector initiatives of the plan, and a number of improvements have been made or are underway. These include the removal of an unsightly water tower near the tracks, parking lot and sidewalk upgrades, installation of a plaza near the station to serve as a community gathering space and CBD focal point, and the ongoing construction of a new Metra station. A new mixed-use building containing retail space and condominiums is also under construction on a key site in the area.

A very important and effective part of the plan was the development of Façade Improvement Guidelines, and the preparation of several specific facade improvement concepts for high visibility buildings in the area. The Guidelines address three specific development types found in the station area: traditional commercial facades built up to the sidewalk, auto-oriented buildings set back from the street, and older residences that have been converted to business use. Each façade improvement concept included a detailed illustration of the potential future appearance of the façade, juxtaposed with a photograph of the existing condition of the building. The sketches provided an improvement recommendation that each building owner could pursue with an architect or directly with a general contractor, depending upon the scope of the proposed façade changes.

The Village of Tinley Park then developed and marketed a Façade Improvement Program for buildings in the CBD, beginning with building owners for whom the Village had proactively funded improvement concepts. Under the Program, the building owner hires an architect acceptable to the Village to design (or in these cases refine) a façade concept and estimate the cost of the improvements.  Drawings are then submitted to the Village.  If approved, the Village reimburses the building owner for up to 50% of the cost of the façade improvements.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Village staff used the facade improvement concepts in meetings with property owners, the business community, and developers. The sketches were very effective in developing interest in building improvements by the private sector. Several buildings in the immediate area of the train station have been attractively renovated and house thriving restaurants that are highly visible to passing Metra commuters, providing outdoor dining areas and substantial new downtown activity, jobs, and sales tax revenue.

A Facade Improvement Program is a low cost and effective way to attract quality investment to a community. The facade improvement concepts were a very important outgrowth of the TOD plan.  They encouraged the active involvement of the private sector in area improvements. The improvements generated by the TOD plan and Facade Improvement Program jump-started a successful effort toward community revitalization.

The authors:

Craig Hullinger, AICP is a city planning consultant.  He can be reached at: 

Diane Gormely-Barnes, AICP, AIA, LEED AP 

is currently a Principal Planner with HNTB Corporation in Chicago, Illinois.  She was formerly a Senior Associate at Camiros, Ltd.  She can be reached at dcbarnes@hntb.com.

For more information on Tinley Park’s Façade Improvement Program and other “Old Town” initiatives, contact: Director of Planning for Tinley Park, IL at 708 444 5000.

The Heart of the Heartland

Heart of the Heartland

If the Midwest is the Heartland of America, then Peoria and Central Illinois are the “Heart of the Heartland”. Our region is midway between Chicago and St. Louis. We are smaller and less congested. Our rush hour is the "Rush Minute", compared to our larger neighbors.

We have a high quality workforce. We are served by miles of free uncongested interstate highways and major railroads. We welcome new developments and industries. You can drive to destinations anywhere in the United States without traffic jams and their cost and aggravation.

We are easy to work with and offer a pleasant atmosphere in which to conduct business. In many cases you can meet directly with the Mayor and City Council to discuss your development and needs.

This region is the Heart of America’s Heartland. Our crime rate is low and we offer great school systems, low taxes, and affordable housing for your employees. For those seeking higher education, the region offers several universities and colleges.

We offer numerous economic development incentives, including Tax Increment Financing, Enterprise Zones, Port Districts, HUB Zones, Foreign Free Trade Zones, low interest loans, and many other incentive programs.

All of this makes the “Heart of the Heartland” a wonderful place to live and conduct business.

Contact the City of Peoria Economic Development Department at:

419 Fulton Street Suite 402

Peoria, IL 61602

Phone; 309-494-8640 Fax: 309-494-8650

Sustainable "Green" Economic Development

Sustainable “Green” Economic Development combines environmental improvement and traditional economic development into one discipline. Traditional economic development can be employed to increase employment while improving our environment. Economic Development and “Green” Development should be synergistic, improving our overall quality of life.

Sustainable Development – Definitions

"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." United Nations http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/review.htm

"We believe sustainable development begins at home and is supported by effective domestic policies, and international partnerships. Self-governing people prepared to participate in an open world marketplace are the very foundation of sustainable development."
US State Department http://www.state.gov/g/oes/sus/

"We pledge to transmit this city not only not less, but far greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us." Oath written by Pericles. From 594 to 404 B.C., literature, science, philosophy, and the arts flourished in Athens. The birthplace of democracy had its golden age during the rule of statesman Pericles (c. 495-429 B.C.), who made sweeping political reforms and actively supported the arts. Pericles is credited with the Athenian oath of fealty.

"Leave your campground better than you found it." Scouting Principle.

“Leave your community better than you found it.” Our Principle.

Traditional Economic Development

The ongoing growth and improvement of the economy is critical for any community. Government and the private sector work to enhance and expand business, jobs, and tax base. This is especially important now during the "Great Recession" currently underway. A quality community requires full employment - the opportunity for all citizens to earn a living while contributing to the entire society.

Economic development is the increase in the amount of people in a nation's population with sustained growth from a simple, low-income economy to a modern, high-income economy. Its scope includes the process and policies by which a nation improves the economic, political, and social well-being of its people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_development

Gonçalo L Fonsesca at the New School for Social Research defines economic development as "the analysis of the economic development of nations. http://www.newschool.edu/nssr/het/contact.htm

The University of Iowa's Center for International Finance and Development states that: "'Economic development' or 'development' is a term that economists, politicians, and others have used frequently in the 20th century. The concept, however, has been in existence in the West for centuries. Modernization, Westernization, and especially Industrialization are other terms people have used when discussing economic development. Although no one is sure when the concept originated, most people agree that development is closely bound up with the evolution of capitalism and the demise of feudalism. http://www.uiowa.edu/ifdebook/

The Canadian Center for Community Renewal defines “Community Economic Development as the process by which local people build organizations and partnerships that interconnect profitable business with other interests and values - for example, skills and education, health, housing, and the environment. In CED a lot more people get involved, describing how the community should change. A lot more organizations look for ways to make their actions and investments reinforce the wishes and intentions of the whole community. Business becomes a means to accumulate wealth and to make the local way of life more creative, inclusive, and sustainable - now and 20 or 30 years from now.” http://www.cedworks.com/CEDdefinition.html

Sustainable Economic Development
KISS (Keep it Sweet and Simple)

Our simple rule set and acronym for sustainable economic development:


Keep the businesses and jobs that you have
Expand the businesses you have
Enhance your community to attract new businesses
Protect and continuously improve the environment

Sustainable Economic Development is the art of keeping and expanding your businesses while continually improving the Environment. As economic developers we provide information and assistance to companies who create new jobs. We create the policies and incentives to retain our existing businesses and support expansion. A good economic development office strives to have the most comprehensive and current information available on the following subject matter areas:

• Local demographics
• Quality of life
• Public infrastructure
• Business assistance
• Real estate
• Taxes, fees, regulations
• Market the community to targeted business industries

Both successful economic development and continuing improvement to the environment are a hallmark of a quality community. Some people still think that economic development is chasing smokestacks and that economic development hurts the environment.

But that view is outdated. Working intelligently, business and government can expand the economy and retain and attract quality jobs while enhancing and improving the environment.

Sustainable Economic Development Strategy

Feel free to use this adapt this brief strategy to your own local situation.


Our communities will provide quality jobs at good wages while improving our environment.

Mission Statement

We are committed to providing an environment in which our natural resources, our people, and our economy are balanced. We will not compromise the future by focusing solely on the needs of today. We aspire to make our communities regional leaders who develop, promotes, and improves the quality of our community through sustainable practices.

Mission Statement

The following are our recommended improvements to "Green" our communities that we will pursue that are aimed at retaining and expanding our businesses and jobs:

· We will retain our existing businesses and jobs
· We will help our existing businesses expand
· We will attract new businesses
· Energy efficiency in all businesses is encouraged
· Developers are encouraged to create green buildings

· Mixed use development will be emphasized
· Historic buildings will be adaptively reused
· Walk ability of the city will be encouraged
· Incentives will be employed to support improvements
· Energy efficient buildings will be required

· Sedimentation and erosion controls will be enforced
· The ecology of waters edge areas will be enhanced
· Bike trails and racks will be emphasized
· Transit will be maintained
· Trees and natural landscaping will be planted

· Renewable energy sources will be sought
· Recycling will be supported
· Air and water quality will be improved
· We will ensure a just and fair society
· We will seek to provide jobs for all of our citizens

We will follow the principles below:

Promote efficient buildings
Use recycled material in buildings
Recycle building material waste
Encourage rain harvesting and irrigation
Use passive solar orientation of buildings

Encourage solar and wind energy systems
Employ green roofs
Support the use of natural landscaping
Improve municipal staff knowledge of “green” techniques
Support quality construction for long lived buildings

Encourage mixed use development
Support walk to work programs
Encourage development that supports transit
Support efforts to redevelop older communities
Permit Live / Work Space development

Support natural open space and parks
Use open surface natural drainage where feasible
Design wetlands, drainageways and retention into parks
Support the local production of “green” technology equipment
Incorporate bikeways and pedestrian path

Minimize pavement widths & cost & material
Update codes to encourage “green” development
Encourage geothermal energy
Require street trees
Sustainable Land Use Planning

Smart Growth
Growth presents a tremendous opportunity for progress and change. Communities around the country are looking for methods to optimize development and to amend zoning rules that make it difficult to place workplaces, homes, and services closer together. Citizens are faced with economic pressures and seek ways to save on car and gas use and on commuting time.

To address these challenges we must make a commitment to sustainable land use planning, often called "smart growth." Taking steps such as preserving open space, providing a variety of transportation choices, encouraging compact building designs and creating walk able communities will help the city choose smart growth strategies that encourage social, cultural and physical activity. Smart growth is a way to offer more choices to citizens in terms of deciding where to live, how to get around, and will protect the environment while stimulating economic growth.

Sustainable Economic Development operates within a social and economic context. Smart growth also strongly supports the revitalization and/or redevelopment of established and emerging urban neighborhoods. It promotes neighborhood-centric activity centers that employ a smart growth development template that integrates a mix of uses, multi-modal circulation options, public spaces and other elements.

Environmental sustainability is a part of this operation and is best achieved when integrated with other components. A sustainable economic development organization seeks to participate within its community, integrate economic development with environmental protection, and minimize the impacts of development on the community. Through seeking balance, an organization will take into account the needs of future generations.

With financial difficulties and environmental concerns facing the global and national economy, we will place a high priority on sustainable economic development, energy efficiency, and responsible growth management.


Sustainable Economic Development will be the standard for future economic development and “green” environmental improvement efforts. We can and will improve our environment while providing jobs and tax base for our community.

This Article Can Be Found At:


About the authors –

Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji is a Professor and Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction at Bradley University Dr. Al-Khafaji is the only active faculty member on the Bradley University campus to have won both the Putnam Award for Teaching Excellence and the Rothberg Award for Research Excellence. He is Chairman of the City of Peoria Commission on Sustainability and Green Technology.

Chuck Eckenstahler is 35 year veteran of municipal planning, economic development and real estate consultant serving clients in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, and a past contributor to the Illinois Municipal Review. He teaches economic development subjects in the Graduate School of Business at Purdue North Central, Westville, Indiana and serves on the faculty of the Lowell Stahl Center for Commercial Real Estate Studies at Lewis University, Oakbrook Illinois. Find out more about him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/chuckeckenstahler He can be contacted at pctecken@comcast.net or by phone at 219-861-2077.

Craig Hullinger AICP has 35 years of experience in economic development, city planning, and transportation planning. He is a Partner in the consulting firm Ruyle Hullinger and Associates. He was the Economic Development Director of the City of Peoria, Illinois, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and Lamda Alpha. He was formerly Planning Director of Will County. He publishes a number of blogs on economic development, planning, and sustainability which can be found at http://craighullinger.com/. He can be contacted at craighullinger@gmail.com or by phone at 309-634-5557.