October 17, 1991

Experts tell Lockport how to lure business  

By Martin Zabell
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer

Real estate and economic development experts paid by the federal government spent four days recently helping Lockport officials figure out how to improve the far southwest suburb's business climate.

In short, Lockport was told it still has a long way to go. 

The visit by the five consultants last week was the first step in a three-year program called Main Street, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Last spring, the group awarded Lockport, Lemont and Ottawa a total of $250,000 worth of non-financial assistance to help in efforts to revitalize their historic downtown areas. All three cities are on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which provided a link between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River and helped Chicago supplant St. Louis as the Midwest's major transportation hub in the 1840s.

The experts said Lockport first must ask its residents what they would like to see in the downtown area, lure more service businesses, improve its marketing and public relations efforts, rebuild its infrastructure, provide tax incentives for businesses and create more spots for tourists.

Whether Lockport succeeds probably depends on how closely the city's business sector and residential community are willing to work together, they added. "If you can position yourself, you've got it made," said Valerie Kretchmer, the owner of an Evanston real estate and planning firm.

The experts said the projected growth of northern Will County, Lockport's commitment to historic preservation, its stable residential and business communities, an excess of available land and a lack of nearby commercial developments bode well for the city.

But John Gerner, a tourism expert from Richmond, Va., said the downtown project would have problems succeeding unless more attractions are created to lure the 300,000 people who live within 10 miles of Lockport for daylong visits. He suggested raising the level of the Illinois & Michigan Canal so it could be used for recreational purposes, building more historic trails and museums, adding signage and finding an answer to the parking and traffic problems downtown.

The city's business community is receptive to the group's recommendations, said Kim Winters, who heads the city's Main Street committee.



Copyright © 1991, Chicago Tribune.