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By Mike Sandrolini
BELLWOOD | Last week, the West Suburban Journal asked new Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey—who is starting his 30th year working for the village— about his thoughts regarding taking over as the new mayor, and also becoming the first African-American mayor in village history.
This week, Harvey discusses some of the issues he’ll be focusing on as his first term gets under way.
Last December, the long-awaited 25th Avenue overpass, which cost an estimated $41 million, opened over the Union Pacific rail line in Bellwood. Its completion will save commuters and emergency vehicles time as the overpass eliminates frequent delays caused by freight and Metra trains.
But Harvey expects the village will benefit economically from the overpass as well, with daily commuter traffic expected to triple, making it a desirable venue for retail outlets and developers.
The village contributed over $2 million to complete construction of the overpass, but bulk of its funding was provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and other railroad, state and federal sources.
Another major project on the village’s radar is the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Addison Creek Reservoir Project—a 600 acre-foot reservoir to be built just north of Washington Boulevard and west of 25th Avenue.
The site where the reservoir is to be constructed was once an industrial site. It is being demolished. Once completed, the reservoir, which will cost an estimated $130 million, will be 17 acres and 50 feet deep and provide an estimated 20 million gallons of flood storage, protecting nearly 1,700 structures along Addison Creek.
The Addison Creek Reservoir will directly benefit many Bellwood residents whose homes are currently in a flood plain at no charge to them. Former Mayor Dr. Frank Pasquale was instrumental in getting the Addison Creek Reservoir Project under way, and Harvey is looking forward to seeing the project eventually completed.
“People see that there have been things torn down,” Harvey said. “That land was purchased by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District—it’s going to reduce the flooding in the village of Bellwood and six other communities.
“Currently, the village has 900 homes in the flood plain. Once this project is completed, the retention pond will take approximately 800 homes out of the flood plain and that will save each one of those homes about $3,000 to $5,000 (in flood insurance per year).
“We just talked to the Water Reclamation District, and they’re coming in this month and the next several weeks and continue the demolition. Once they get the demolition completed, they’ll pick a contractor to start actually building and working on the retention pond. It will be anywhere from 18 to 24 months for the total completion (of the project).”
Harvey said the village also is working to bring more businesses into the mini-mall along 25th Avenue and Washington Street.
“Currently, we have A Dollar General that has just move into the mall,” he said. “The McDonalds is about to be renovated, so we’ll have a practically brand new McDonalds. We are working very hard with the owners of the mall to get businesses to come in. We do have, I believe, a café style establishment that’s going to be coming in within the next couple of months, but we’re going to be working really hard to fill them all up.”
Harvey mentioned that the village has “a slight deficit” that he wants to see eliminated.
“Some years ago, the Village of Bellwood purchased some land before the (economic) crash (in 2008), so I want to ensure that we attract new businesses into the village,” he said. “We want to use any vacant land that we have to get new businesses in and to grow our economy so we will have the opportunity to pay back our debt and continue to keep taxes as flat as possible and not try to raise taxes.”
He noted that the village has not had to raise taxes on residents over the past seven years, and he wants to keep it that way.
“That’s one thing that our village has been proud of,” he said. “We want to keep that trend going so we’ve got to get more businesses or industrial companies or commercial (developments); we’ve got to get them here.”
Something else that’s very important to Harvey is continuing the special relationship the village has enjoyed with its residents over the years.
“One thing about Bellwood that we try to do with all of our departments—our police department, our fire department, or streets department—is that we try to make sure that it’s a family atmosphere,” he said. “One thing that everyone knows about me is that customer service is first, family is first, and we try to make ourselves very accessible.
“Our mayor has been so accessible to the community, and I’ve learned that we need to continue to do that. We go out into the community and we talk to the residents on a daily basis so we keep that friendly atmosphere going so that everybody is close knit in the Village of Bellwood. We have a great relationship with our residents and we just want to let the residents know that I’ll be here to work extra hard for them. We here in the Village of Bellwood have an open door policy for all our residents.”