Located at a crossroads of activity, this community has spent a decade making solid investments in its future – and they’re already starting to pay dividends.
Julie Callahan can sense the energy rising in Old Town Algonquin. As one of the block’s newest business owners, she’s finding an easy fit in a neighborhood that draws working professionals on dates and local families seeking fun.
It’s not unusual for those same people to book a session at Makity Make, the DIY craft studio Callahan owns with Julie Schafer. The studio offers workshops and private sessions where people create pottery, wood projects, knitting works and any number of fun inventions.
Since setting up in an old Victorian home last December, Callahan has found her place in this “Main Street America” environment. It’s close to the river, well-connected to major thoroughfares and bustling with an eager crowd.
“We’ve felt like this is our community,” she says. “We love it, and we’ve met a lot of great people down here.”
Just down the block, Greg Geigel has found his place, too. The owner of Bold American Fare has built a loyal following over the decade he’s been in the neighborhood. It’s not unusual for there to be a wait time at his farm-to-table restaurant, which seats about 50. Down the street, his Whiskey and Wine tasting room complements Old Town’s dining scene.
“It’s a good mix of people down here,” he says. “Our place is geared toward professional types, and it’s got a really great mix. This is a truly diverse area.”
And for good reason. As a whole, the village of Algonquin sits at a crossroads of incredible activity. Every day, some 40,000 cars travel down Randall Road. Nearly 30,000 pass downtown along Algonquin Road. They shop, dine out, play and work.
Located at the juncture of McHenry, Kane, Lake and Cook counties, this community continues to be a residence of choice for nearly 30,000 people, and it’s their economic power that has many businesses leaders paying a renewed attention to Algonquin.
For this community on the move, the future isn’t something beyond. The future is now.
“We’re very fortunate we’re seeing investment in all three major segments of the economy: industrial, retail and residential,” says Jason Shallcross, director of community development for the Village of Algonquin. “The community development department here is doing everything we can to further economic development activity in the village, and we couldn’t be more thrilled at the investment that we’ve seen. You’re talking almost a half-billion dollars in investment in new projects, just in the last six months. That’s absolutely mind-blowing.”
What is the Advantage?
Since he moved to Algonquin six months ago, Shallcross has heard a few common themes among developers. They add up to what Shallcross and his team have dubbed the “Algonquin Advantage.”
Primary among those themes is the village’s demographic profile. According to the most recent Census estimates, Algonquin boasts a population that’s better educated, slightly older, wealthier and more stably employed than the state average. Their median household income is around $102,856, and only 3.5% of their neighbors live in poverty – almost one-quarter the state average.
More than half of residents have completed an associate, bachelor’s or postgraduate degree. Overall employment rates have remained stable, COVID aside, with many residents employed in education/government/health care (21.3%), manufacturing (15.4%) and retail (13.1%). And while the village does have a robust business scene, most residents travel elsewhere for work, with their average commute lasting about 35 minutes.
“Our favorable demographics lead retailers and new developers to choose Algonquin when they’re looking for development opportunities in the western and northwestern suburbs,” says Shallcross. “That’s the first advantage we have.”
Shallcross believes another advantage is the village’s development standards, which have long encouraged builders to bury utilities and embrace conservation.
“It really does become apparent on Randall Road when you see buried utilities and other things that the Village of Algonquin requires,” Shallcross says. “And, honestly, not a lot of other communities do things like that.”
Naturally, the lifestyle here includes preservation of historic properties, more than 670 acres of open green space, and access to the biggest retailers. All of that open space adds up to a quality of life that continues attracting new residents.
“If you come and do business here, we have paths so your employees, on their breaks, can ride their bikes or walk and enjoy the outdoors,” says Debby Sosine, village president. “If they work at home we have lots of parks and amenities to get them out of the house and away from their desks. People are using our paths now more than ever.”
Next, Shallcross cites the work of village staff to ensure smooth processes. Over the past two years, the village has invested in digital portals for such tasks as permit requests, zoning changes, development applications and other processes for developers. The village’s newly updated economic development website, aplusalgonquin.com, also helps to raise the profile of vacant properties.
“We’re taking a proactive approach to economic development,” says Shallcross. “We’ve taken our elected officials on a bus tour around Chicagoland to look at modern multifamily and mixed-use development, pursued a developers’ breakfast with developers and brokers, and relaunched our business retention and expansion program.”
Jamie Griffiths hears many of the same themes in her role as executive director of the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce. In her 28 years as a resident of Algonquin, she’s met many transplants who come from the city and out-of-state to raise their families.
“This is a small town and it’s very friendly,” she says.
In recent years, she’s seen the Chamber building new relationships with Village Hall and strengthening the collaboration between municipality and small business.
“I think there’s huge support from the village when you run a business,” she says. “It’s a small town, but we’re mighty.”
Geigel knows the feeling. He’s especially grateful for the city’s efforts with historic preservation, given that he operates out of a century-old building on Main Street. “The Village has always been great to us,” he says.
“[Former Village President] John Schmitt was always a big supporter of us, and he did whatever he could todevelop businesses. Debby Sosine has followed in his footsteps. We’ve made some great friends down here.”
Perhaps the biggest investment is visible around Algonquin’s Old Town area, where a $45 million new streetscape was recently finished. Hand-in-hand with that project was the 2014 completion of a bypass that now reroutes traffic from Main Street to the east of downtown. The quieter streets downtown are more pedestrian-friendly, and improvements to the neighboring blocks are already underway.
“It’s completely changed,” says Geigel, whose Bold American Fare is located right next to a public fireplace that rages on cold nights. “It’s a totally different environment down here. You have to see it to truly appreciate it.”
If the crowds are any gauge, there is a growing appreciation for Old Town. This past summer, the Art on the Fox art fair took over Main Street and brought a flood of new visitors to restaurants and retailers. Shallcross says some businesses there reported three to five times the amount of normal business that weekend.
“People ask me where they can move in, how they can relocate downtown,” says Shallcross. “I don’t have a vacancy for them. So, we are extremely fortunate with our downtown. I think it’s something we’re going to see a lot more investment in, going forward.”
Old Town isn’t the only hot spot. To the west, a newly expanded intersection at Algonquin and Randall roads is alleviating traffic congestion in a corridor where more than 40,000 cars pass north-to-south and another 26,000 pass east-to-west every day.
“It just makes it that much easier to come to the Village of Algonquin,” Shallcross says. “It makes it easier to go to our stores, easier to live here, easier to choose Algonquin. That type of investment is just critical to having a successful community, and it’s really critical to becoming a regional destination.”
Along the Algonquin Road corridor, Shallcross expects groundbreakings on a Goodyear auto shop and several fast-casual restaurants in the near future. He’s also fielding increased interest in a long-vacant Brunswick Zone.
At the south end of town, the new Longmeadow Parkway promises to become the next major thoroughfare.
Construction is nearly done on the newly built roadway connecting Huntley from the west and Carpentersvilleto the east. A new toll bridge over the Fox River is still under construction.
“Longmeadow is easily 20,000 to 30,000 cars going east-west when it’s done,” says Shallcross. “It’ll take several years to get there, but once it’s done and it’s used regularly, regardless of the toll that’ll be in place, it’ll open a lot of doors.”
Developers aren’t waiting around. One group has already pitched a 1.5 million-square-foot corporate and logistics center for the southwest corner of Longmeadow and Randall. NorthPoint Development, based near Kansas City, Mo., has developed and managed more than 126.2 million square feet of industrial space in more than 24 states.
While it maintains expertise in warehousing, self-storage and multifamily units, NorthPoint’s industrial team has attracted such clients as Home Depot, Amazon, Unilever, Chewy and Adidas. The company has not yet announced who might fill the proposed $125 million complex in Algonquin.
“If things progress on their timeline, they’ll be fully approved by the Village before the end of this year, with groundbreaking expected in spring,” says Shallcross. “A brand-new corporate campus that effectively quadruples the amount of industrial spec space in the village overnight, if approved, is just an incredible win for Algonquin and the region.”
Farther north on Randall Road, available properties are filling up. Planet Fitness plans to occupy a former Gander Mountain while another national firm eyes space in the Galleria shopping center. Longtime tenants nearby, including Walmart, Target and Chili’s, plan to refresh their properties, says Shallcross.
And then there’s the Algonquin Commons, at the southwest corner of Randall and County Line roads. Now under new ownership, the property is ground zero for fresh arrivals and a California company’s multimillion-dollar refresh.
Inside the Commons
Imagine a shopping center that’s a regional destination for shopping, entertainment and family gatherings, and you start to get an idea of what’s to come at the Algonquin Commons. The 600,000-square-foot complex, set on 70 acres, is about to undergo a massive refresh.
Its new owners, California-based Red Mountain Group, brought the property out of an eight-year receivership this May, and they’re planning a revitalization of the Commons that promises new retailers, restaurants and family-friendly gathering spaces that can attract people from across the northwest suburbs.
“The world has changed its social habits and how we engage with each other over the past 10-plus years, and in our opinion shopping centers are now places of social interaction,” says Michael Mugel, CEO of Red Mountain Group. “They’ve become a different asset for communities. It’s our job to bring a sense of place, well-being, entertainment and community to this spot.”
Built in 2004, this shopping center has always had a balance of national and regional retailers and restaurants. Its unique combination of “power” shops (think Dick’s Sporting Goods, Old Navy and Trader Joe’s) and niche retailers like Hollister, American Eagle and Victoria’s Secret has always attracted shoppers, but consumer habits are changing.
What’s missing at the Commons are the green spaces and walkways that encourage visitors to linger – what Mugel calls a “sense of place.”
So, at the heart of this refresh are plans to reconfigure parking areas, walkways and retention ponds for more interactivity. New signage along Randall Road, an imperative to new retailers, will help to draw more attention to what’s inside.
“It’s not just shopping but visiting for recreation or dining in a new, innovative environment,” says Scott Allman, president of Ethos Workshop, a Naperville architectural firm overseeing the Commons redesign.
At the heart of these plans is a new 1-acre indoor/outdoor area referred to as “The Link.” It promises to become that sense of place, complete with a retractable roof and gathering spots such as community tables, family food offerings, fine dining restaurants and more.
Indoors gathering spots include a fireplace, large-screen monitors for sports events, and a stage for concerts and movies on a large field. The space also accommodates such winter activities as ice skating.
“I think what you’re going to see is spaces that offer points of connection throughout the property and a way to have an exploratory journey,” says Allman. “If you go there once, you might find something interesting, and the next time you might find something different.”
Red Mountain Group expects to present formal plans to the Village Board this November and start construction in the spring.
The California-based firm, which specializes in asset repositioning, has wasted no time with its reset in Algonquin. Since Red Mountain’s acquisition this past May, prospective tenants have already committed to filling 75,000 square feet, a 12.5% gain in six months.
In the near-term, Barnes & Noble is relocating from West Dundee in early November. Ashley Furniture plans to relocate in December from a spot on South Randall Road. New arrivals Tap House Grill and X-Golf plan to arrive in November and December, respectively. The holiday season will also bring Black Friday events, a Christmas tree lighting and a holiday trolley.
“Our work is in repositioning assets, and what’s most enjoyable is when it can be a win-win-win,” says Mugel.
“The community wins with increased sales taxes, jobs and beautification. It’s a tremendous honor and privilege to tackle assets and opportunities like this because you can bring so much good to the ecosystem you’re doing business in.”
For all of the good things happening in town, growing pains are sure to result. Nowhere are those challenges more obvious than in the village’s tight housing market.
Inventory of available homes is tight across the northwest suburbs, but it’s acute in Algonquin, where just 26 homes were available during the late summer months. Of the 10 sales that closed, the median sale price was $372,500 – noticeably higher than September’s median list price of $307,000, according to reports from Heartland Realtor Organization, an association of Realtors in McHenry County.
Median list prices are 23% higher than two years ago. In some cases, Algonquin listings this summer were available for two weeks or less before going under contract.
As a result of the tight market, homebuilders are showing a growing interest in Algonquin. Pulte’s Trails of Woods Creek subdivision opened earlier this year at the former Terrace Hill Golf Club on Algonquin Road, just west of Randall. The 278-home development features 14 customizable models starting around $305,000. Home sites are set among rolling terrain with recreation trails, open green space and several ponds.
Shallcross says he’s fielded interest from other homebuilders, as well, including some developers of multifamily properties – which one can find in greater supply the closer you get to Interstate 90.
“One developer told me that, if they had all the materials and labor to guarantee it, they could sell half their subdivision overnight,” says Shallcross. “There’s such a shortage in labor and materials that it’s not doable, so their homes are selling at a premium.”
Tight as the housing market is right now, national labor shortages have Shallcross and other local officials considering the long-term future of Algonquin’s workforce. Prior to the pandemic, the village enjoyed a labor force participation rate of about 75% – some 10 points higher than the state average and 13 points higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Census.
There’s a growing awareness of how local education systems will feed future talent to local employers. The big idea is to align curriculum between local high schools and community colleges so that young people have an easy pathway to explore and prepare for their career interests, especially in high-demand fields – like manufacturing, IT/technology and health care – where some additional education is required.
Algonquin-based District 300 is already taking steps forward with its pathways program. The arrangement encourages students to concentrate their elective courses around 14 subjects. In some cases, students can also earn college credits, thanks to a dual-credit agreement with Elgin Community College. The expectation is that they’ll explore their interests and disinterests now, before they get to college, trade school or the working world, says Joseph Sieczkowski, director of CTE, Pathways and College & Career Readiness for D300.
At Jacobs High School, students can focus on topics like computer networking/programming, graphic design and veterinary medicine, while students at Dundee-Crown High School (which draws from east Algonquin) can study areas like pre-law, early childhood education, electrical technology and entrepreneurship. The district’s other high school, in Hampshire, has a fully accredited advanced manufacturing pathway. In many cases, students can interact with real-world employers through work-based learning. Interested employers can contact Sieczkowski.
“We tend to find that students are more engaged and have more success as they understand the relevancy of their academic learning through these work-based learning experiences that are part of our pathways,” says Sieczkowski. “As these programs grow, we will be needing to continue to grow our community partnerships.”
The Future is Here
Construction crews remain a familiar sight, especially in Old Town Algonquin, where crews are expanding upon the recent streetscape improvements. They’ll continue to be a presence over the next few years as the Village addresses the flood plain surrounding a creek that cuts through Main Street. Village leaders have plans to redesign the infrastructure before reopening vacant land for development.
“We’re looking to widen the creek, reinvest in a new bridge downtown, and then we can remap the flood plain by providing additional storage and creating a creek-side walk,” Shallcross says.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for local businesses, but the Chamber’s Griffiths, agrees it offers big potential for the future.
“I think the construction has been a struggle for local businesses and residents, but in the long run, it’s going to improve the city overall,” she says. “It is growing pains, but once it’s done it’ll be just as beautiful as Main Street is.”
Sosine, a former village trustee, is still amazed at the transformation that’s taken place in Algonquin.
“I am so positive,” she says. “I feel so blessed that we have been able to do what we’ve done over the past 20 years I’ve been involved here. What we have going forward is just going to enhance the quality of life here and make Algonquin a good place to work, play and live for everybody.”
That beautiful new environment is winning plenty of friends, including new business owners like Callahan. When she was looking to locate her business, Makity Make, she found the right balance in Old Town. Since opening last December, she’s also seen a plant boutique and a clothing boutique appear down the road – not to mention a warm embrace from her neighbors.
“Everyone is so great to deal with,” she says. “They’ve welcomed us with open arms.”