DeKALB — Mayor Jerry Smith announced that the cooperation between the City of DeKalb and NIU “has rarely been better” during his State of the City address at Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
“We do not use the term communiversity lightly,” Smith said. “Even when problems arise, the leadership team of [NIU] President Lisa Freeman works to engage City Hall in working things out, and we pledge to keep it that way.”
Smith touched on a variety of topics within his State of the City address, including downtown revitalizations, development initiatives and public safety and infrastructure improvements.
He began his address by speaking about the redevelopment properties along Sycamore Road, including Aldi, 2540 Sycamore Road, and Planet Fitness, 2560 Sycamore Road.
“Shopping centers along Sycamore Road seem to be ever-changing — a sign of the times as retailers and restaurants seek to adjust to buying patterns of our population,” Smith said.
One of the possible development initiatives includes the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability, a potential $22.9 million development on the western edge of campus.
NICCS is part of the Illinois Innovation Network, and more than 15 departments at the university are reportedly collaborating on the development of the center, according to an Oct. 22 Northern Star article.
Smith said the development could impact NIU’s collaboration with the University of Illinois and the regional economy.
An increase in jobs and decrease in students who migrate out of Illinois for college would create more economic opportunities for the state, Timothy Killeen, University of Illinois System president said in an Oct. 11, 2018 Northern Star article.
Smith also spoke about the empty storefronts in downtown DeKalb where he said he hopes to continue to work with realtors and developers to attract owners and tenants.
As early as spring, city officials could be moving from the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St., to the Nehring Building, 164 E. Lincoln Highway, to bring more foot traffic downtown, according to the May 28 City Council agenda.
“One of our steps to improve our core is the planned move of City Hall to a sturdy structure that has passed the test of time,” he said.
While city government offices will be moving to the Nehring Building, City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings will be held in the Yasunas Meeting Room of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St.
In addition to downtown revitalizations, Smith said he hopes the city will be able to tear down housing stock and commercial properties like former movie theatres which have “fallen to disrepair.”
In previous years, developers have tried to add on a second floor to the former Campus Cinema movie theatre, 1015 Blackhawk Road, and build 22 apartments but were denied a permit multiple times, according to a Oct.17 Planning and Zoning Commission agenda.
He said the city has been making progress on the public safety front, but one of the biggest roadblocks to the progress has been dealing with the city’s biggest landlord — Hunter Star Properties.
“I’m heartened by Hunter [Star]Properties’ new willingness to work with city staff to address many of the issues in housing like those at 808 Ridgebrook - which was condemned for nearly six months after a fire displaced 150 residents. It appears 808 may soon be reopened.”
Smith closed his speech by addressing challenges that arose during 2019, specifically hiring a City Manager. Smith said city manager Bill Nicklas has worked harder than anyone he’s ever seen in the past year.
Smith said Nicklas’ time so far as city manager hasn’t been easy with downsizes and the cutting of department heads within city hall.
“I’m darn proud if you call me DeKalb’s No. 1 cheerleader,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience, being your mayor.”