In Libertyville, IL, a new parking garage is an integral part of a decades-long revitalization plan that combines walkability, livability, and easy access in a spruced-up downtown. Using an innovative funding system, along with a community invested in affecting change, the suburban town of Libertyville, IL, has created a thriving, bustling downtown destination where parking and walking successfully coexist.
An upscale suburb just north of Chicago, the town was in danger of falling prey to the suburban sprawl that surrounds it. An unfortunate city effort in the 1960s failed to invigorate Libertyville, instead masking many of the downtown’s brick buildings with concrete and metal façades and leaving behind vacant storefronts.
Then, in the late 1980s, the city created an innovative funding program. Called Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the program takes property tax revenues from a certain area, and then uses that money to redevelop and reinvigorate the downtown. Indeed, within just the first nine years of the TIF plan, the value of downtown’s properties had risen 78 percent, gained $14 million in private investment, and the TIF district had a net growth of over $200,000.
As part of this long-range financing program, initially set to run through 2010 and extended through 2021, was the defined need for a downtown parking garage. “A parking study was done when we first started the TIF district,” says Kevin Bowens, Libertyville’s Village Administrator. “It showed that the existing parking we had was adequate, but it was not enough for growth, nor was it convenient to downtown.”
After searching for years for an appropriate site, the city built the three-story garage in 2009. Located just behind the village hall, the top two floors of the 360-space garage are free to the public, designed to encourage casual shoppers and diners to visit downtown; the first floor is reserved for people who work nearby. Overall, however, “the design was critical for the garage,” says Bowens. “It had to be user friendly, conveniently located, and blend in with the architecture and building materials of downtown.”
And indeed it does. Clad in brick, with plenty of natural light and surrounding landscaping, the garage merges well with the five-block downtown stretch. In addition to parking, the TIF funds were also used to renovate façades back to their original old-town Midwestern brick charm. Other improvements included street trees, decorative lights, and brick paver sidewalks, along with bump-outs at intersections for pedestrians to more easily cross the main avenue.
In addition, local banks made low-interest loans to encourage downtown businesses, which helped create a mix of local shops, restaurants, and commercial spaces. There’s a New Urbanist development of 26 homes called School Street, along with other condos and lofts, so that people can live—as well as work and shop—downtown. A commuter train into Chicago also stops nearby. And a community group, called MainStreet Libertyville, has also helped promote downtown’s resurgence, along with hosting events such as farmer’s markets, first Fridays, and an old-fashioned car show.
Instead of hindering development, parking has helped foster a healthier main street—and another downtown garage is already in the works. “We’re very proud of our downtown,” says Bowens. “People live here because of it.” A great example of how smart garages can help livable, walkable communities thrive.