Local Editorials

Our view: Economic development at work in Crystal Lake

Finding new tenants for empty big-box retail buildings always has been a challenge, one that’s grown even tougher with the disruption to the retail sector caused by online shopping.

That’s why the recent announcement by Crystal Lake that Steinhafels – Wisconsin’s largest furniture seller – would be occupying a vacant 100,000-square-foot building on Route 14 is an important development for the city. City officials should be congratulated for making it happen.

Economic development efforts can take time to bear fruit, but Crystal Lake officials have made a concerted effort to bring businesses here and some of the results are beginning to be seen around the city.

Steinhafels will open its 18th store in a building at 5846 Route 14, which had been empty since Kmart closed in late 2014. To show that the city was serious about providing a suitable business climate, officials struck a deal with the furniture-seller to rebate up to $600,000 in sales tax proceeds over the next decade.

Landing a retailer such as Steinhafels is no small feat.

Incentives, such as sales-tax rebates, are a big part of Crystal Lake’s strategy, and they makes sense provided the incentive does not give an unfair advantage to one business over a competitor.

But the city has done more to improve the local business climate. Years ago, the city had developed a reputation for being difficult to work with, and business were leaving for nearby towns and the fast-growing Randall Road corridor.

In response, city officials met with business leaders from all over town to listen. They got an earful. But it didn’t stop there. They immediately got to work making changes.

Over the years, the city has implemented a number of economic development programs. One effort encourages people to shop in Crystal Lake. Another provides grants to help new sales-tax generating businesses buy equipment, furniture and make building facade improvements.

Such efforts have paid off, both along Route 14 and downtown.

The former Sears store on Route 14 was demolished in April to make way for a 74,800-square-foot Mariano’s. The grocery store is expected to open in the spring.

Community Development Director Michelle Rentzsch said local businesses have helped fuel the city’s economic engine. She said business owners are quick to tell others about what it’s like to do business in Crystal Lake.

“Success breeds success,” she said. “Businesses want to go to a place where they will be embraced.”

We hope to see such efforts continue, especially at sites such as the former Walmart near Three Oaks Recreation Area. Three Oaks is a gem and we hope to see that property used to its full potential.

We hope city leaders will continue to work aggressively to bring new businesses to Crystal Lake.

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