Features

Huntley: The Friendly Village with Country Charm

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Among the fastest-growing cities in Illinois for the past 15 years, Huntley continues to build its positive reputation. Explore the village’s prime amenities and quaint character.

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Jaki Berggren fell in love with Huntley when she moved to the village nine years ago. She wanted to live closer to her family, raise her children in a safe area and have access to urban amenities without losing the feel of a small town.

Huntley met every one of Berggren’s expectations.

“Huntley is known as ‘The Friendly Village with Country Charm’ for a reason,” says Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County. “It’s been a great place to raise my kids. We’ve nurtured deep roots here, resulting in wonderful friendships.”

Located along Illinois Route 47, around the Interstate 90 interchange, Huntley is a unique combination of modern housing developments mixed with charming rural architecture. What was once a quiet hamlet in McHenry County has actually been one of Illinois’ fastest-growing communities for the past 15 years. Since the 2000 census, Huntley has exploded from 5,730 residents to an estimated 26,700 – a 365 percent increase.

Because of its rapid growth, Huntley has prime offerings for residents young and old. A top-notch school district attracts younger families, while Del Webb’s Sun City is widely popular with adults age 55 and older.

Berggren finds Huntley has everything she needs.

“I don’t expect that I will ever move away from Huntley,” Berggren says. She enjoys her job, where she helps to draw out-of-towners to McHenry County. She can speak from the heart when telling others about where she lives.

“We love to walk along the bike path behind our house and fish in the pond,” she says. “On hot summer days, we like to enjoy Deicke Park, and we also love to go to Dairy Mart for a yummy, cold ice cream treat. There’s something here for everyone. Once our kids are grown and out of the house, my husband and I would like to live in Sun City.”

A Hotspot for New Business

Illinois lost more of its population in 2015 than any other state.

Huntley grew anyway.

Over the past two years, more than 2,000 new jobs have emerged in town, and nearly $226 million has been spent on new commercial and residential construction. In 2014, Global Trade Magazine ranked Huntley as a top 10 American city for global trade.

“You could literally walk outside and hear the town growing,” says Margo Griffin, business development coordinator for the Village of Huntley. “Our location by Route 47 and I-90 has been the key.”

Up until a few years ago, travelers on I-90 could only access Huntley from one direction. If people wanted to stop in Huntley, they could get off the highway, but they couldn’t get back on.

“That was a real issue,” Griffin says. “You could only travel to and from the east.”

Finally, 11 years and $59 million later, Griffin saw the village’s hopes become reality when a full interchange opened at I-90 in 2013. With this project, the Illinois Department of Transportation widened two miles of Route 47, eliminating a previous congestion point.

“We practically cried when we saw the plans come in with an ‘approved’ stamp,” Griffin says. “We worked on that project for 10 years and to see it finally happen, you couldn’t help it. It was so exciting to stand on that ramp and watch them cut that ribbon.”

The new interchange has opened a floodgate of economic opportunity. At least 40 new employers have come to Huntley since 2012, the year the Village announced the construction of a full interchange.

“The reason a lot of companies locate in Huntley is, No. 1, they have to build,” Griffin says. “Companies need higher ceilings, with heavier concrete floors and modern amenities. So, rather than spend money to adapt existing buildings, which is expensive, it’s cheaper for them to come and build here.”

For example, Weber-Stephen Products has created nearly 500 new jobs in Huntley. The barbecue grill manufacturer ships its products all over the world from its Huntley center, a mammoth space of 750,000 square feet – roughly equal to 13.5 football fields.

Weber manufactured its familiar charcoal grills in Huntley for many years, but it wasn’t until the I-90 interchange opened that the company brought its global distribution site to town.

“They had shopped in other states – it’s very competitive to have jobs come to your community,” Griffin says. “We’re really excited they chose Huntley.”

Another major employer, Centegra Health System, is creating nearly 1,000 new jobs this year with the construction of a brand-new hospital. Scheduled to open in August 2016, the 360,000 square-foot hospital will have 128 beds, a women’s center and an emergency department, in addition to an 80,000 square-foot medical office building next door for Centegra physicians and specialists.

The medical office also contains an education center for Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, a North Chicago-based institution.

“The great thing is, those graduates will be a feeder right into the hospital,” Griffin says. “It’s a victory because we want to provide health care for our residents, especially since Huntley’s core population groups are active adults and younger families.”

According to Griffin, Centegra Hospital-Huntley is only the second new hospital to open in Illinois over the past 30 years. Although many other hospitals have replaced, relocated or expanded their facilities, it’s rare for hospitals to develop new campuses in new locations.

“Hospitals are competitive,” Griffin says. “They compete with each other for patients. It was a fight for us to get this here, but we want our residents to have a complete community here in Huntley.”

A Safe Community

As new jobs and homes spring up in Huntley, the public school system continues to attract new families. Huntley Community School District 158 educates 9,700 students in Pre-K through grade 12. Drawing children from McHenry County and parts of Kane County, the district maintains five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.

“Not that many years ago, Huntley High School was very small,” Griffin says. “Now, it’s huge and breaking records. The district excels at providing a great education.”

In 2015, The College Board recognized Huntley High School among the best in the nation, for the fourth straight year, for its Advanced Placement (AP) college-level courses. The District offers students 23 AP courses across a variety of subjects.

According to Dan Armstrong, director of communications and public engagement for District 158, Huntley High School has undergone several renovations and expansions during its history. In just the past two years, the campus has gained a 55,000 square-foot athletics fieldhouse, a 21st century learning resource center, a new science wing including labs and flexible classrooms, a remodeled cafeteria and commons modeled after collegiate food courts, revamped athletic fields, and expanded parking to accommodate the growing number of students.

“Huntley 158 continues to outperform other districts in academic achievement and innovation while spending nearly 30 percent less per student than the state average,” Armstrong says. “In fact, Huntley 158 continues to have the lowest spending rate among all large-unit districts in the Chicago area.”

Families are flocking to Huntley for more than a good education, says Griffin. They’re also drawn by the village’s low crime rate. According to FBI crime statistics compiled in 2015 by ValuePenguin, an online financial data comparison service, Huntley ranked among the five “Safest Cities in Illinois.”

“People flooded to Huntley when subdivisions on the north side of town were first being built,” Griffin says. “They wanted these brand-new homes in a safe area with a great school district. So that’s why so many younger families live here.”

While younger families occupy the northern subdivisions, active adults compose the core population on Huntley’s south side. Del Webb Sun City, the largest active adult community outside of the Sunbelt, is home to 9,000 residents age 55 and older.

“Most people want to go somewhere warm when they retire, but some people don’t want to be away from their kids and grandkids,” Griffin says. “That’s why Sun City was built for people in the Midwest – so they could stay close to their families. It’s been extremely popular. The homes are all built out.”

Constructed as one community but grouped into multiple neighborhoods, Sun City has a golf course, swimming pools, gymnasiums and clubs of all kinds that appeal to active adults. Families in Huntley’s northern subdivisions often have a grandparent living in Sun City.

“That’s what we’ve found is happening,” Griffin says. “It’s been a great system for families to stay close.”

What Residents Enjoy

While chain retailers spring up along Route 47, a grassroots effort is underway to revitalize Huntley’s charming downtown. Newly introduced businesses include Elated Boutique, Morkes Chocolates, Sal’s Pizza Place and Huntley Eye Care. Last year, Strode’s Colonial Vermont Furniture made facade improvements.

Upgrades to the village square, located on Main Street, include a new Veterans Memorial Project honoring local military veterans.

“That was actually a grassroots project,” Griffin says. “A group of citizens decided to take the initiative to get that accomplished.”

Sisters-in-law Brittney and Amy Gasner always dreamed about owning their own boutique filled with items that promote happiness, creativity, laughter, beauty and love. The Huntley residents made their vision a reality when they opened Elated Boutique in July 2015.

“We’re thrilled to be in downtown Huntley,” Amy says. “The area provides the same quaint, family-friendly, uplifting atmosphere that Elated Boutique seeks to create.”

In addition to clothing, accessories, jewelry, bath and spa products, baby/toddler items, home decor and unique gifts, Elated Boutique features a special local, homemade or small-business item each month. The sisters featured Pinch Me Therapy Dough this past April. The product is an oil-infused dough that can be pinched or squeezed to knead away tension, stress and anxiety. Portions of the proceeds help provide therapy for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We’ve been so happy with our decision to start our business on Main Street in Huntley,” Brittney says. “It’s such a great atmosphere filled with wonderful people.”

Next door, husband-and-wife duo Claudia and Rick Kendzior co-own Morkes Chocolate Shop. The couple relocated their store from Algonquin in 2015.

“It was truly the best decision we could ever make,” Claudia says. “Seeing the Village’s plans for Main Street, I knew that outdoor seating combined with our coffee, bakery and donuts would be great. I knew we could succeed within the Village’s future plans.”

As a small-business owner, Claudia feels a sense of commitment to help make Huntley a “go-to” place.

“We have a trifecta of an attractive store, a friendly staff and great-tasting products,” Claudia says. “We get kids on bikes, seniors meeting for coffee, girlfriends meeting, dog walkers, even businesspeople using the free Wi-Fi. It works for everyone.”

Residents can also enjoy the many parks and recreational facilities maintained by the Huntley Park District.

Deicke Park, Huntley’s signature park, located along Route 47, has amenities including picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts, baseball fields, a wooded area, a fishing pond and two playgrounds. The adjacent Betsey Warrington Park, has soccer fields, a 10-hole disc golf course, outdoor fitness equipment and a main recreation center.

“The Huntley Park District is committed to enhancing the quality of life for district residents and visitors,” says Debbie Kraus, park district recreation director. “We work closely with community agencies such as the school district, Village and library as well as businesses to provide these opportunities for the community.”

Stingray Bay Family Aquatic Center is a summertime favorite for residents, Kraus says. With two 138-foot-long slides, a frog slide for the little ones, diving boards, water basketball and more, the attraction has something for kids of all ages.

The Park District also maintains Pinecrest Golf Club, an 18-hole golf course that’s open to the public and ranked as one of the top golf courses in the area. Four tee locations on each hole provide accessibility for players of all skill levels.

“The Huntley Park District benefits the community in many ways,” Kraus says. “It provides balance between work and play, connects neighborhoods and families, provides jobs for teens and adults, and preserves open space for the community. Parks and recreation are an investment in the well-being of individuals and the community.”

Looking to the Future

Huntley has much to look forward to.

Berggren hopes to continue Visit McHenry County’s vision of promoting the long-term development of the region. The organization is constantly promoting tourism and encouraging visitors to spend more time and money in the area.

Her office at the visitors center is conveniently located along Route 47, north of I-90 at the edge of downtown.

“I truly enjoy telling others about why they should visit,” Berggren says. “It’s a good feeling to know that revenue from our marketing efforts helps to provide the services and amenities that residents enjoy.”

Along with Centegra Hospital, the village also expects to welcome Heartland Dental, Denny’s, Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts this year. HIWIN Corporation, a manufacturer of motion control devices and system technologies, plans to relocate its U.S. headquarters and warehouse to a 15.25-acre site in Huntley. Heritage Woods, an assisted living community, is undergoing a 31,000 square-foot expansion.

According to Griffin, these seven projects constitute a $55 million investment.

Beyond this year, Alden-Huntley Horizon Senior Living Community is expected to open in 2017 with a 158,000 square-foot facility that includes independent living, nursing/rehabilitation and a memory care facility. Construction on the village’s first hotel is slated for 2017. Several other developments are in the works.

Looking ahead to 2020, village leaders hope to create in their town a regional leader and a prime destination for residents, businesses and visitors. They hope to provide a wide range of housing options, shopping and dining opportunities, employment centers, educational opportunities and entertainment venues.

“I think the residents are really proud of the community,” Griffin says. “I love working here. People are really friendly. I think we’re progressive and people appreciate that. We have a vision for the future. We’re always striving to be better. We’re not satisfied with just ‘good enough.’ We’re looking to be the best, and as you can see, we have a really good start.”

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