After working for over 20 years as the Village of Barrington’s Director of Economic & Community Development, Peg Blanchard is retiring from that role this week. Peg held economic development positions in the Village of LaGrange, City of Highland Park and Village of Downers Grove before taking the job in Barrington back in 1996. Through our economic ups and downs, Peg says her goal has been to thoughtfully guide community development, attract & support local business and help create the vibrant downtown we enjoy today. I recently sat down with Peg to look back at some of the highlights of her career here in Barrington where, she says, “It takes a team to build a village.”
“It takes a team to build a village.” – Peg Blanchard
When you started in this role, what were your goals for economic development in the Village of Barrington?
The Village’s goal was to establish a strategy to redevelop the downtown, create a beautification plan and to attract new retail investment. The Village held its first stakeholders/design charrette in 1998 that set the stage for the development of the Village Center Master Plan in 1999 and the adoption of the Village Center Tax Increment Financing District in 2000.
The Master Plan set forth the following goals:
- Maintain Barrington’s small town traditional character while accommodating modern shopping and business needs.
- Strengthen the economic base by revitalizing the area as an active town center with a range of retail, service, residential and public uses
- Improve Barrington’s quality of life by maintaining the Village Center as a viable, attractive and convenient shopping/cultural hub to attract shoppers and visitors from throughout the region
- Improve the visual image of the Village Center through streetscape and building improvements
- Improve the pedestrian and bicycling, friendliness of the downtown.
How have these goals changed over the years?
The Village would revisit these goals and later simplified them to work toward a goal of creating a Social, Active and Vibrant community.
Looking back at your time in this position, what projects/developments are you most proud of?
- Improving the visual appearance of the Village Center, banners, baskets landscaping and building improvements
- Bringing Heinen’s to the community
- Development of the Barrington Village Center project, creating that vibrancy with entertainment and dining
- Working with the McGonigal family on the opening of McGonigal’s Pub
- ACE Hardware
- Establishing a solid special events program that brings visitors to the area
- Retaining Barrington Volvo and our auto dealerships
- Securing a quality coffee shop for the Barrington Train Station
- Development of the 101 West Liberty Street project.
I want to give a huge shout-out to the Village’s Public Works and Public Safety departments who worked with economic development to improve the visual appearance of the town and for always being there to lend a helping hand. Thank you. And to the planning staff who would take the projects through the process to being built.
It takes a team to build a Village.
What have been highlights of your time here in Barrington?
From the very beginning working and engaging the community in our planning and economic development efforts. The community set the framework with the strategic plan, master plan and the TIF to allow staff to follow that plan to achieve success. I am of the belief that good planning and community involvement leads to quality development.
We never forgot our overriding goal, To maintain the small town character of the Village.
Any low points? Or seasons that were particularly difficult?
It was a very difficult time when the real estate market crashed in ’08. Things virtually came to a halt. As a staff and community this was a good time to take a break, reassess the priorities and to wait for the right opportunity for that next project. We did a lot of internal cleanup of our processes to be in a position to be ready for when the market turned. We did not see things start to happen until the end of 2010 to 2011. We were fortunate to be introduced to Art Hill, Bruce Reid and Peter Rusnak who developed the Hough and Main Street Corner. We were successful in negotiating an agreement with them for the redevelopment of the Barrington Village Center project that is a social, active and vibrant area for the Village.
What did you learn in this role about what Village of Barrington residents are seeking in terms of economic development? What are their priorities?
The residents are very proud to be a part of this community. They are giving of their time and energy to help build a strong community and the goals set by the Board were a reflection of the residents’ desires. They asked for us to give them a more urban feel, in a suburban downtown setting, while maintaining the small town atmosphere. I think this has been achieved and the Board will continue to maintain this small town charm.
What did you learn that residents do not see as priority for economic development in the Village?
What are your hopes for the future of development in the Village of Barrington or predictions about what is to come?
Barrington will continue to see infill development on key parcels in the Village. The Triangle and the North Cook Street area. Both are opportunity areas for mixed use development that will continue to bring an urban experience in a suburban small downtown.
What advice would you give to young planners and economic development professionals?
Learn about the community you represent, be a part of it, engage in the leadership and invest your time to listen and plan. Remember you are building their community and their input should be respected.
What’s on the horizon for you after your last day of work on March 12th?
Taking some time off to enjoy my family, grandbabies and a vacation. I am an active board member of Lambda Alpha International, ELY Chapter, a land economics organization. I am currently working on the planning committee to plan the 2020 International Land Economics Weekend in Chicago. I have been so fortunate to be able to work in a field that has given me so much in return, from my professional colleagues I have met along the way, to the friendships formed with community leaders and my professional involvement with organizations that care about the built environment. I will always look back and say, as my late mother-in-law said, “Who’s luckier than us!”