Economic development breakfast touts Will County’s economy, but notes lack of diverse housing and sufficient workforce

While continued growth in population and jobs help Will County stand out as an economic hub in Illinois, the leader of an economic development group said Thursday the lack of diverse housing development and labor force issues are sticking points for the development of the southwest suburban region.

“The narratives about the demise of Illinois are, well, just a bit exaggerated,” said Doug Pryor, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, after rattling off statistics comparing state and local economic growth standings.

“We’re performing well here,” Pryor said.

The comments came during the center’s annual Eye Opener breakfast, which highlights economic achievements of area public and private sector partnerships for about 300 business leaders and elected officials.

Pryor said Will County places in the top 20 of counties nationwide for new and expanding companies and for five years has held the top position in the state for job creation.

However, the labor force for an area that’s principal industry is manufacturing has not kept up, despite a 26% total wage increase from 2019 to 2023, he said.

“As this economy continues to grow, we’re going to see a continued demand for more people, more labor force, more ability to hire and hire from within the county,” Pryor said.

To encourage young people to stay and work locally, the Center for Economic Development kicked off a paid high school summer internship program last year, which they hope to expand to serve more businesses and students. The program provides about 40 students with work in large corporations, such as IKEA or Harbor Freight Tools, and local government offices and nonprofits.

“Look, folks, it’s not altruism,” Pryor said. “It’s about making these connections and hiring here.”

Following national trends, affordable housing remains difficult to find in the region, with the median home price increasing about 40% since 2019, Pryor said. The issue stood out to some in the nonprofit field, including United Way of Will County Development Director Ken Guldenbecker, who said municipalities and businesses need to continue work to increase low and income housing and to support diverse families.

“The number one need we hear about from folks reaching out to us, mainly via our 211 help line, is housing,” Guldenbecker said.

Guldenbecker said when resources become available, he’s confident organizations like United Way, in partnership with other groups, will help people get on the right path to sustaining themselves.

Projects underway in the county to boost the supply of housing, though mainly upscale units, include Lincoln Station in New Lenox and a proposed Edward Rose senior living and apartment development in Romeoville, Pryor said.

The CED leader also highlighted potential for more job growth in the Hollywood Casino Joliet’s move to a plot of land near the Interstate 80 and Interstate 55 interchange, which will require hiring up to 150 staff.

Still, new projects overall have slowed, with only 3 million square feet under construction in the entire county compared to 13 million square feet in 2022. Pryor said interest rate hikes have had a negative effect, with project development trending south of Will County.

Attendees of the annual Will County Center for Economic Development breakfast applaud during a presentation of growth metrics given by CEO and President Doug Pryor. (Olivia Stevens/Daily Southtown)
Attendees of the annual Will County Center for Economic Development breakfast applaud during a presentation of growth metrics given by CEO and President Doug Pryor. (Olivia Stevens/Daily Southtown)

But Pryor said residents still have plenty to celebrate over the past year, ranging from the CosMcs concept restaurant opening in Bolingbrook to the planned Crossroads Sports Complex that broke ground in New Lenox in April.

The organization’s treasurer Robert Filotto, owner of Joliet-based accounting firm Filotto Professional Services, said he appreciated hearing about such accomplishments.

“When you come to something like this and you see all the good news … and unless you’re involved in an organization like the CED, you really don’t know about this,” Filotto said. “I’ve often said Will County is like an island in the state of Illinois — we’ve been so successful.”

ostevens@chicagotribune.com

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Naperville residents’ input sought on upgrades and new amenities for Nike complex, Fort Hill center

The Naperville Park District is gathering community feedback on possible renovations at the Nike Sports Complex and the Fort Hill Activity Center in anticipation of upgrading and maybe adding amenities next year and beyond.

Earlier this spring, the district launched two separate public opinion campaigns to gauge residents’ interest in future capital improvements, Executive Director Brad Wilson said. The first is focused solely on Nike complex. The other is an assessment of indoor recreational needs across the district, including the nearly 84,000-square-foot Fort Hill center.

By this fall, officials will have processed the input received and should have a better idea of what projects the district might undertake in coming years, Wilson said.

One of the reasons the Naperville Park District is seeking resident input on its indoor recreational spaces is because they've added nearly 2,000 more Fort Hill Activity Center members since the COVID-19 pandemic, the district's executive director said. (Naperville Park District)
One of the reasons the Naperville Park District is seeking resident input on its indoor recreational spaces is because they’ve added nearly 2,000 more Fort Hill Activity Center members since the COVID-19 pandemic, the district’s executive director said. (Naperville Park District)

Community outreach on Nike Sports Complex started last month.

Among the upgrades under review are an expansion of a loop trail within the complex and the addition of a “ninja-type” challenge course to the site, Wilson said. The district also is considering a playground renovation, new water spray features and adding synthetic turf to ball fields.

“Really, the hope is to gather the thoughts and opinions from the residents on what some of the proposed improvements are and whether they would have an interest or need for those at the park,” Wilson said.

The district held an initial open house on May 22 for the public to weigh in on possible improvements to the Nike complex, which hasn’t undergone significant renovations since 2011. Another is scheduled for 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, at the outdoor Book Family Pavilion, 1520 N. Mill St.

When the input process is complete, the district intends to develop a master plan that will not only guide prospective Nike renovations but also allow the district to seek state funding, Wilson said.

District officials hope to land an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to cover complex improvements, he said. OSLAD grants are awarded to government agencies to help acquire land and develop recreational space.

The district has had success with OSLAD grants before, with one a few years back helping add new amenities to Meadow Glens Park, including a nature playground and a winter skating area.

“We felt that Nike Sports Complex would be a good candidate to put together an OSLAD grant … to hopefully get some funding to assist with it,” Wilson said.

They’re charting a similar course with indoor recreation space. Through a needs assessment, the district is evaluating community satisfaction with the indoor space it currently offers and trying to determine if there is demand for more.

The assessment was spurred by a post-pandemic surge in facility use and participation in district programming that’s made it tough to accommodate everyone, Wilson said. For example, youth basketball leagues having waitlists and the Fort Hill fitness facility has almost 2,000 more members than it did five years ago, he said.

Also on the district’s radar is getting more input on the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center, Knoch Knolls Nature Center and Seager Park Interpretive Center and assessing its use of other indoor spaces, including those they lease or have access to through partnerships with local school districts.

Naperville Park District's youth basketball leagues are so popular that there are waitlists for those who want to participate, according to district Executive Director Brad Wilson. (Naperville Park District)
Naperville Park District’s youth basketball leagues are so popular that there are waitlists for those who want to participate, according to district Executive Director Brad Wilson. (Naperville Park District)

This assessment, a major initiative included in the district’s 2023-25 strategic plan , is moving forward in a few different ways, Wilson says.

Between March and April, the district held a series of focus group meetings at which residents were asked to share firsthand challenges they’ve faced with indoor space and ideas for making it better. Those were followed up with a pair of open houses earlier this month.

Up next is surveying the whole community. An indoor needs survey will go live on the district’s website in coming weeks, Wilson said.

Asked what the district is hearing from residents so far, early conversations have indicated there’s an interest in some type of aquatic space — currently, there is none — and adding more outside and inside synthetic fields, he said.

There are no firm plans to expand indoor space, Wilson said, because doing so would likely require the district to seek voter approval for a bond referendum to pay for it. That is another subject district officials are posing to residents at the feedback sessions, he said.

Once the recommendations are compiled and presented to the Naperville Park Board later this year, there will be a clearer idea on how they might proceed, Wilson said.

“We would certainly look to begin addressing and working from those recommendations as soon as we could within the coming years,” he said.

tkenny@chicagotribune.com

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Vintage Chicago Tribune: Metra — ‘The way to really fly’ — turns 40

Trains have carried people in and around Chicago since Oct. 25, 1848 , when the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad dispatched the locomotive Pioneer from a station on Kinzie Street just north of the Chicago River. In future decades Chicago would become a rail hub for the entire nation.

But by the early 1970s, the region’s mass transit agencies were in poor financial shape — with many on the verge of collapse . With rising operating expenses and lower ridership, many of these agencies could not continue to exist on their own. That’s why voters in six counties — Cook, Kane, Will, Lake, DuPage and McHenry — took to the polls on March 19, 1974 , to decide if an umbrella organization should be created to coordinate the services of the Chicago Transit Authority, eight commuter railroads and suburban bus companies in these areas.

Voters in the city approved this referendum proposal by a 2 to 1 margin but others in DuPage, Will, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties rejected it handily. Many suburbanites said they voted that way because they believed the new Regional Transportation Authority would not benefit them and because they thought it would only serve to bail out the deficit-ridden Chicago Transit Authority.

After hitting its peak in 1980, commuter rail ridership was decimated when an RTA financial crisis that forced a doubling of fares the next year. Passengers abandoned the system in droves and, by 1983, ridership had fallen below 60 million.

But passage of legislation that same year reorganized the RTA , provided a new source of state funding and created service boards for three key operations: Chicago Transit Authority (which retained authority over mass transit); Suburban Bus Board (which would later be known as Pace); and Commuter Rail Service Board (which would later be known as Metra ).

Here’s a look back at how Metra has changed in the past 40 years.

CTA, Metra and Pace could launch day pass to be used across all three transit systems

June 1984: Commuter Rail Service Board formed

Metra Chairman Jeff Ladd during a press conference on Sept. 19, 2005, in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Metra Chairman Jeff Ladd during a news conference on Sept. 19, 2005, in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

Lawyer Jeff Ladd — who regularly commuted via train from his McHenry County home to the Loop — was appointed to the board and elected its chairman. At the time, the rail lines and infrastructure Metra took over were in such disrepair that longtime agency officials say they could see the tracks through rusted-out holes in the train cars.

Under Ladd’s leadership, Metra bought new train cars, upgraded its poorly maintained bridges and infrastructure, started service to Antioch and extended rail lines and increased capacity. It also passed a special fare increase in 1989, dedicated exclusively to capital projects. In 1996, the agency started the North Central line between the Loop and Antioch. Two years later, it secured federal authorization to double the runs on the North Central line and extend the Union Pacific West and the SouthWest lines. All three projects were completed in early 2006.

But Ladd’s tenure was also marked by controversies that pegged him as a hothead. He once suggested the punishment for a driver who caused a fatal train accident in 1994 should be a trip to Singapore for caning. He angered south suburban officials who were pushing for the Suburban Transit Access Route (STAR) line to link Joliet to the economically depressed south suburbs. Metra, he said, wasn’t a “social welfare agency.” Besides ruffling feathers, Ladd’s temper got him in trouble with the law. In 1997 he was convicted of disorderly conduct in what prosecutors called a road rage incident .

Ladd stepped down from the post in June 2006. He surfaced in the 2008 trial of Antoin “Tony” Rezko who was a key fundraiser and adviser for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Ladd testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution about his dealings as a lobbyist in 2004 with the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which Rezko and political insider Stuart Levine controlled.


July 12, 1985: Agency gets a new name — Metra — chosen for its pizazz

Evening commuters on the Chicago & North Western, what is now a Metra line, enjoy a drink and a game of cards on Aug. 25, 1982. (Walter Neal/Chicago Tribune)
Evening commuters on the Chicago & North Western, what is now a Metra line, enjoy a drink and a game of cards on Aug. 25, 1982. (Walter Neal/Chicago Tribune)

A marketing firm produced a list of 150 possible new monikers before its was whittled down to four finalists :

  • CORD (Commuter Rail Division)
  • METRA (Metropolitan Rail)
  • CORTA (Commuter Rail Division of the RTA)
  • TRAC (Total Rail Access)

The new royal-on-blue Metra logo (which originally included the words “Metropolitan Rail”) was soon added to stations, signs and commuter rail cars and locomotives. The first locomotive to be painted in blue and orange was the Kane County , which debuted in August 1985.


April 13, 1992: ‘Great Chicago Flood’ evacuees engulf Union Station

Pedestrians step over hoses used to pump out flood water from buildings at the intersection of State and Madison Streets. Scenes like this on downtown Chicago streets were commonplace in April 1992, due to massive basement and sub-basement flooding caused when crews punctured a century-old freight tunnel located underneath the Chicago River. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)
Pedestrians step over hoses used to pump out flood water from buildings at the intersection of State and Madison streets. Scenes like this on downtown Chicago streets were commonplace in April 1992, due to massive basement and sub-basement flooding caused when crews punctured a century-old freight tunnel located underneath the Chicago River. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Although the flood was mainly out of sight, lurking 40 feet below the city’s streets, it wreaked visible havoc.

The Great Chicago Flood paralyzed downtown — shutting down power and prompting an evacuation that would affect financial markets and bring business to a halt for days. Those who were there vividly recall that spring day when 124 million gallons of water from the Chicago River flowed into the city’s maze of underground freight tunnels and building basements, turning the Loop into a ghost town.

Metra says so long to its rail saloons

Commuters, evacuated from their flooded office buildings, began the outbound rush hour before noon. An unscheduled Metra Milwaukee west line train was dispatched from Union Station at about 11:40 a.m., and the agency (whose own headquarters at 547 W. Jackson Blvd. was inundated with water) decided shortly thereafter to abandon its normal schedule, opting to send trains from downtown as soon as they were filled.


Aug. 18, 1996: First new commuter line in Illinois in 70 years embarks

The Metra Antioch train station at the end of the line on Aug. 1, 2006. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)
The Metra Antioch train station at the end of the line on Aug. 1, 2006. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

A total of 1,000 passengers rode the Antioch to Chicago route during its inaugural day. With three morning rush-hour trains and another three in the afternoon and evening, the North Central line’s stops along the 52-mile journey included O’Hare International Airport and 10 other destinations before arriving at Union Station.

Metra now operates 11 lines .


May 7, 2010: Metra CEO’s death leaves questions

Embattled Metra Executive Director Philip Pagano stepped in front of a train May 7, 2010 near this crossing on Hillside Road in Crystal Lake. He had been suspended from his job and was under scrutiny for financial irregularities when he died. (Phil Velasquez/ Chicago Tribune)
Embattled Metra Executive Director Philip Pagano stepped in front of a train May 7, 2010, near this crossing on Hillside Road in Crystal Lake. He had been suspended from his job and was under scrutiny for financial irregularities when he died. (Phil Velasquez/ Chicago Tribune)

Just a few hours before Metra’s executive board was scheduled to hear about the financial irregularities that occurred under his watch, Metra Executive Director Philip Pagano stepped onto the railroad tracks near his Crystal Lake home and was hit by an inbound train carrying two dozen passengers. Pagano was killed instantly. Authorities found at the scene Pagano’s wallet and a copy of Metra’s procedures for a service disruption after a suicide, sources told the Tribune.

Pagano had been a key player at the agency since it was created, serving as its executive director for 20 years. Under his control, Metra thrived, developing record ridership on 11 lines built from a piecemeal network, including the bankrupt Rock Island and the broken-down Illinois Central Gulf railroads. But he had also been placed on administrative leave in late April 2010, as a probe began alleging he received an unapproved $56,000 bonus on top of his $269,625 annual salary. The investigation found Pagano improperly took $425,000 — $225,000 for cashing out vacation pay from 2007 to 2010, and $250,000 between 1999 and 2006.

Pagano claimed a document signed by former Metra Chairman Ladd authorized him to be awarded additional vacation time, but no original version of the “Ladd certificate” could be found, according to special counsel James Sotos’ report.


February 2012: Riders experience ‘huge’ fare hike

Commuters pass a Metra display at Union Station on June 5, 2012, the year of a big fare increase. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)
Commuters pass a Metra display at Union Station on June 5, 2012, the year of a big fare increase. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)

Some commuters — including the vast majority of riders with monthly passes and 10-ride tickets — saw their ticket prices skyrocket as much as 35%. But because the cost of gasoline and parking in the city was higher, many said they had little choice but to dig deeper into their wallets and pay up. The last major fare hikes by the agency were a 10% increase in 2008. Metra also raised fares 5% in 2006.

Before approving the fare hike in late 2011, Metra’s board of directors spent months pondering service cuts and other options. Finally, board members decided not to cut service.

Metra CEO and Executive Director Alex Clifford, who spent most of his first year on the job warning of the hike, said the increase is necessary to “put Metra on a stable financial course.” Without naming his predecessor, Clifford blamed Metra’s previous management for “kicking the can down the road” and failing to address Metra’s deficit shortfall — previously estimated to be as high as $100 million — sooner. The additional revenue would help close a $53.6 million budget gap in 2012, officials said.

Metra, which provided 300,000 trips a day at the time, blamed spiking diesel fuel prices, the demands of meeting new federal regulations, higher insurance premiums and other rising costs.


June 21, 2013: Pagano’s replacement ousted

Metra CEO Alex Clifford in his office on April 9, 2013. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
Metra CEO Alex Clifford in his office on April 9, 2013. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

Metra’s board ousted Clifford — a former Marine and head of the transit district in Santa Cruz, Calif., who was brought in to clean up the agency after the scandal and suicide of Pagano — after he threatened to file a whistleblower lawsuit alleging political patronage involving House Speaker Michael Madigan, among others, and interference by some board members.

The costs associated with Metra’s controversial 2013 settlement with Clifford totaled about $1.3 million , with about half going to outside lawyers, officials said. Clifford was given a more than $700,000 severance package, which included a secrecy clause that bars both sides from talking about certain aspects of it.

A bruising report from the Regional Transportation Authority suggested Metra officials repeatedly misled the public when they insisted that an unusually large severance package for Clifford saved taxpayers millions of dollars in potential litigation costs.


Nov. 4, 2016: Busiest day ever

Metra commuters wait for a train at crowded Van Buren station after celebrating the World Series champion Chicago Cubs after the parade and rally in Grant Park in Chicago on Nov. 4, 2016. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)
Metra commuters wait for a train at crowded Van Buren station after celebrating the World Series champion Chicago Cubs after the parade and rally in Grant Park in Chicago on Nov. 4, 2016. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

Almost 470,000 passengers — 40% more than an ordinary November Friday — took Metra to the Chicago Cubs’ World Series celebration and parade, setting a single-day record for the agency. CTA also had its highest one-day rail total with 1.15 million riders.

The previous record for Metra was 430,488 passengers on July 3, 2007, for a Grant Park fireworks show. The Blackhawks victory parade on June 28, 2013, saw 425,241 passengers.


March 2020: COVID shut down means commuters stay home

A Metra Electric train leaves Millennium Station with low ridership during the usual time of afternoon rush, March 16, 2020. (Todd Panagopoulos/Chicago Tribune)
A Metra Electric train leaves Millennium Station with low ridership during the usual time of afternoon rush, March 16, 2020. (Todd Panagopoulos/Chicago Tribune)

Use of public transportation slowed to a trickle since much of the economy shut down at 5 p.m. on March 21, 2020 .

Metra, CTA and Pace have reported increased ridership since the start of the pandemic, but even as residents got vaccinated and much of the city reopened, none of the three transit agencies has seen ridership numbers return to pre-pandemic levels. And none is projecting that will happen in the next three years. A long-term loss of those riders could force the agencies to rethink what their services look like.

Riders have been slow to return to CTA and Metra. What will it take to get them back?

 

And with the number of riders still down, transit agencies in Chicago and across the country have been leaning on federal COVID-19 relief money to get by.

But the money is set to run out in 2025, and that has Chicago-area agencies staring down a $730 million budget hole, a gap the regional transit agency says is too big to fill with service cuts and fare hikes alone. Failing to address the situation could have economic and social consequences for a city that’s working to orchestrate a post-pandemic comeback, planners and experts said.


April 2024: Consolidation considered

A mother and child walk along the catwalk on the outside of a Metra train engine during Railroad Day at the Franklin Park Festival in Franklin Park on June 8, 2024. (Trent Sprague/for the Pioneer Press)
A mother and child walk along the catwalk on the outside of a Metra train engine during Railroad Day at the Franklin Park Festival in Franklin Park on June 8, 2024. (Trent Sprague/for the Pioneer Press)

Just months after Metra completed its new fare structure , lawmakers in Springfield weighed during the final days of the spring legislative session whether the Chicago Transit Authority should be consolidated with Metra and Pace into one agency as the agencies face a combined $730 million budget hole as soon as 2025.

Changes coming for Metra riders, including new fares, low-income program and bike policy

The legislation came as complaints have mounted over the CTA’s struggles to provide frequent, reliable and safe service, and days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for “an evolution of the leadership ” at the CTA. But it is linked to an earlier report laying out recommendations about what Chicago-area transit could look like in the future , and marks a decision to pursue the more comprehensive of two options outlined in the report to overhaul oversight of public transportation.

CTA President Dorval Carter blasts criticism amid calls for resignation: ‘I have been turned into a caricature’

The proposal would replace the Regional Transportation Authority with a new Metropolitan Mobility Authority, which would oversee the operation of buses, trains and paratransit, rather than having the CTA, Metra and Pace each operate their own services.


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Afternoon Briefing: What to know about the Supreme Court’s abortion pill ruling

Good afternoon, Chicago.

The Supreme Court unanimously preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year, in the court’s first abortion decision since conservative justices overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

Here’s a look at what today’s decision does and does not mean for abortion access .

And here’s what else is happening today. And remember, for the latest breaking news in Chicago, visit chicagotribune.com/latest-headlines and sign up to get our alerts on all your devices.

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Ascension Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village on April 29, 2020. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Ascension Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village on April 29, 2020. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Criminals likely stole personal information in Ascension cyberattack, system says

Ascension said it now has evidence that the attackers took files from seven of the system’s 25,000 file servers. Read more here.

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A rendering of the redeveloped Golf Mill Shopping Center at an Open House event on June 10, 2024 hosted by the village of Niles and Sterling Organization, the owner of Golf Mill. (Credit: Richard Requena)
A rendering of the redeveloped Golf Mill Shopping Center at an Open House event on June 10, 2024, hosted by the village of Niles and Sterling Organization, the owner of Golf Mill. (Richard Requena/Pioneer Press)

Redevelopment plans for Niles’ Golf Mill Shopping Center advance; village, developer show united front

A pond with a replica of the original Golf Mill water wheel near a pavilion with green spaces, located near two curated restaurants, will become a gathering space for the community. Read more here.

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York pitcher Ryan Sloan (26) throws during the Class 4A Kane County Supersectional between McHenry and York at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva on Monday, June 3, 2024. (Trent Sprague/for the Pioneer Press)
York’s Ryan Sloan pitches against McHenry during the Class 4A Kane County Supersectional at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva on June 3, 2024. (Trent Sprague/Pioneer Press)

York’s Ryan Sloan has been clocked at 100 mph. The Wake Forest recruit tries to slow down before MLB draft.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander has committed to Wake Forest, but he is expected to be a first-round pick in the MLB draft, which will be held July 14-16. Read more here.

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Keith Kupferer in “Ghostlight,” directed by Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson. (IFC Pictures)

‘Ghostlight’ review: A tender comedy-drama from some of Chicago’s finest

Visually “Ghostlight” keeps things clean and unadorned, shooting all around Chicago and Waukegan. Read more here.

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FILE - Bruce Hickey, 70, walks along the waterfront, now littered with debris including shrimp boats, in the mobile home park where he and his wife, Kathy, have a winter home on San Carlos Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2022, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Thursday, June 13, 2024, pronounced dead the El Nino that warms parts of the central Pacific. Forecasters expect La Nina to breeze in just in time for peak Atlantic hurricane season. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
Bruce Hickey, 70, walks along the waterfront, now littered with debris including shrimp boats, in the mobile home park where he and his wife, Kathy, have a winter home on San Carlos Island, Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on Oct. 5, 2022, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Bye bye, El Nino. Cooler hurricane-helping La Nina to replace the phenomenon that adds heat to Earth

The world is now in a neutral condition when it comes to the important natural El Nino Southern Oscillation, which warps weather systems worldwide. Read more here.

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Review: ‘The Kite Runner’ at CIBC Theatre has a compelling story that struggles to fly on stage

Thanks to the likes of Robert Breen, Frank Galati and Mary Zimmerman, Chicago theater long has been famous for its dramatic interpretations of novels. The list is long: “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Accidental Tourist,” “As I Lay Dying,” “The Sunset Limited.” In all of the above, the central dramatic problem was how to deal with the need for narration, reflecting the fundamental way in which a dialog-dependent play differs from narrative fiction.

That legacy, at once local to Evanston and international of import, came into my head Wednesday night as I watched the touring production of “The Kite Runner,” a show I’d previously reviewed on Broadway in 2022. It’s a (non-musical) adaptation of the justly celebrated debut novel by the Afghan American writer Khaled Hosseini, a harrowing story of displacement and betrayal set in Kabul, Afghanistan, Pakistan and San Francisco. Hosseini had a lot to say about the fate of Afghanistan at the hands of the Soviets, the Americans and the Taliban, but the core of the book really is about how the Pashtun narrator, Amir, fails to prevent a sexual assault happening to his loyal and vulnerable Hazara friend Hassan, and how the narrator’s compounding guilt then comes to define much of the rest of his life.

“The Kite Runner” is a powerful work, widely assigned in schools and famous following the 2007 film of the same name, but I find Matthew Spangler’s adaptation disappointing mostly because huge chunks of the storytelling are confined to the narrative voice, and because so little of the potential visual sweep of a story that draws on the ecstatic experience of flying a kite made it onto the stage. The touring show, which has a smaller physical production than was the case on Broadway, benefits greatly from an accomplished lead actor in Ramzi Khalaf, who carries the bulk of the storytelling, as well as two lovely performances from Shahzeb Zahid Hussain as Hassan and Haythem Noor as Baba, Amir’s demanding but loving father. Hussain especially is really something.

It’s true that Amir’s attempts to assuage his guilt, even though he was hardly the most to blame, are central to the work and this is both a father-son story and one of redemption. And, of course, Amir is the main authorial representative.  But the use of that single narrative voice squeezes out the character who suffers most, which is Hassan, and as you watch this adaptation you constantly think how Hassan has been rendered almost like a cypher for another’s guilt and Amir’s point of view actually is not the one that matters the most here.

There’s nothing inherent wrong with a flawed narrator, of course, but the dialog-phobic adaptation, and to some degree the staging by director Giles Croft, tends to foregound it at the expense of everyone else. The production also lacks sensorial ambition; when a great novel is turned into a Broadway show, we expect a rush of what the theater does best, a sense of place and milieu, beautiful stage pictures, a racing theatrical pulse, a sense of additive life to what once just sat on the page.

The national tour of “The Kite Runner,” now at Chicago’s CIBC Theatre. (Bekah Lynn Photography)

This journeyman, sometimes pedestrian, version of “The Kite Runner” doesn’t have that level of ambition, despite its Broadway pedigree.  Granted, it has its moments:  I liked the touring cast very much indeed and I think the show is a good idea for a young person studying the book, for it will set the mind and heart racing when it comes to what (for me) is its central themes: the morality, or lack thereof, of self-protection if personal survival so demands and how individuals can and should love even when surrounded by oppression.

But it could have been so much more if only it had let others reveal more of their hearts.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

Review: “The Kite Runner” (2.5 stars)

When: Through June 23

Where: CIBC theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Tickets: $31.50-$115.50 at www.broadwayinchicago.com

Shahzeb Zahid Hussain and Ramzi Khalaf in the national tour of “The Kite Runner,” now at Chicago’s CIBC Theatre. (Bekah Lynn Photography)

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Bradshaw: Law, business offer prime opportunities for top college grads

Dear Mr. Bradshaw,

I am a sophomore at the University of Chicago and in the process of deciding on a career in law or business. As an expert, what are the job prospects for each of these professions given the current state of the economy? Names of companies, schools they hire from, and starting salaries would also help.

Signed,

A College Sophomore

Dear Sophomore,

As a sophomore at the University of Chicago, you are at a pivotal point in your academic journey, considering a career in either law or business. Both professions offer unique opportunities and challenges, especially given the current economic climate. Understanding the job prospects, potential employers, hiring schools, and starting salaries in each field is crucial for making an informed decision.

The legal profession is traditionally associated with stability and prestige.

However, the job market for lawyers can be highly competitive and influenced by broader economic conditions. Currently, several key trends are shaping the legal job market. The demand for legal services remains generally stable, with notable growth in areas such as human resource law, corporate law, intellectual property, healthcare law, technology law and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These fields are expanding due to increasing regulatory requirements, technological advancements, and the globalization of business.

Top law firms such as Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Skadden, and Sullivan & Cromwell continue to hire aggressively from prestigious law schools. Graduates from institutions like Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School typically have the best job prospects and higher starting salaries. These top-tier firms often offer starting salaries that can exceed $190,000 annually, along with substantial bonuses.

Despite the generally favorable job prospects at the top end of the market, law school is an expensive investment, often resulting in substantial student loan debt. Not all legal positions offer such lucrative compensation. Public interest law and government positions, while providing fulfilling career opportunities, tend to offer lower starting salaries, often in the range of $50,000 to $70,000 annually.

However, these roles can be immensely rewarding for those passionate about serving the public good.

A career in business, particularly for those with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), offers diverse opportunities across various sectors. The job market for business professionals is robust, influenced by factors such as economic growth, technological innovation, and globalization. The demand for business professionals remains strong, especially in finance, consulting, technology, and healthcare sectors. These industries are continually evolving and require skilled professionals to navigate complex market dynamics.

Top consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company, as well as major investment banks like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley, actively recruit MBA graduates from elite business schools. Graduates from institutions such as Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago often secure lucrative positions with these firms. Starting salaries for MBA graduates in these high-demand fields typically exceed $150,000, with significant potential for bonuses and rapid salary growth.

The business sector’s direct tie to economic health means that economic growth fuels demand for business professionals, while downturns can lead to hiring freezes or layoffs. However, fields like healthcare, technology, and finance have shown resilience and continued growth, providing a buffer against economic fluctuations. The versatility of an MBA allows graduates to pursue careers in management, marketing, operations, and entrepreneurship, offering flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

The current state of the economy plays a crucial role in shaping job prospects for both lawyers and business professionals. The economy is experiencing moderate growth, with certain sectors outperforming others. The legal profession is somewhat insulated from economic fluctuations, as legal services are essential in both good and bad economic times. Specific areas, such as corporate law, may see increased demand during economic booms.

Technological advancements such as AI are also reshaping both fields. In law, technology is streamlining processes and creating new areas of practice, while in business, technology drives innovation and efficiency, creating opportunities for those with the skills to leverage it. Both fields require professionals to adapt to these changes and continuously update their skills.

Ultimately, the best choice between a career in law or business depends on your personal interests, career goals, and financial considerations. If immediate financial returns and diverse career options are priorities, a career in business may be more appealing. Conversely, if a stable and prestigious career with high earning potential in specialized fields is desired, law could be the better choice.

Making an informed decision requires careful consideration of your strengths, market trends, and long-term aspirations.

Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting  in Crown Point.

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Down to Business: After 50 years, Little Italian Pizza in Naperville has the perfect sauce and crust locked down, owner says

Business: Little Italian Pizza

Address: 373 E. Bailey Road, Naperville

Phone/website: 630-983-8200, www.littleitalianpizza.com

Owner: Patrick Broich, 37, of Oswego

Years in business: 50

What does your business do? “We make pizza for the community,” Broich said.

How long have you owned the restaurant? “(I) took over Nov. 1 of last year. … I got a worker’s permit at 15, learned how to roll dough, wash dishes. About 10 years later, that owner decided to sell and move to Florida. I had just graduated from Aurora University with my elementary education degree. The new owner didn’t realize I didn’t come with the sale and was a little shocked by that. … He kept sweetening the pot. … He was ready to retire (last year). I had 5% of the ownership. So, I bought it.”

Why? “It was a great opportunity. The staff and customers are incredible. … It’s always been a fun job.”

Chef Mario Agripino is one reason why Little Italian Pizza continues to be popular in Naperville after 50 years, according to owner Patrick Broich. (Steve Metsch/Naperville Sun)
Chef Mario Agripino is one reason why Little Italian Pizza continues to be popular in Naperville after 50 years, according to owner Patrick Broich. (Steve Metsch/Naperville Sun)

What have you learned? “You never have enough time off as you think you will. It’s all about balance. I have two little kids. They’re my world. Aria is 4. Lily will be 3 in September.”

What’s it like working here? “Hectic. Fast paced. What’s great is we’re surrounded with people we enjoy working with. The craziness is the new normal here.”

When are you busiest? “We’ll do 25% of our week on Fridays. … 700 to 1,000 pizzas. … Saturday is a close second.”

How many people work here? “32. We have people from 16 to 60. Bartending. Service. One driver has been here longer than I have. It’s a good group of people.”

Is this an art? “We can train anybody to make a good pizza.”

Do you throw dough into the air? “We don’t do that. We have a dough sheeter. It’s almost a steam roller for dough. You feed it through, it flattens it out. You set the thickness. … You cut it out using cardboard circles. It’s an assembly line. It’s all about consistency, speed and efficiency.

Is sauce the key to a good pizza? “Absolutely. It’s the spices that go into it. You don’t want a bland sauce. You don’t want an overly sweet sauce. You want to find that happy medium. For the 23 years I’ve been here, I’ve been making the dough, the sauce, the cheese all the same since day one. Those original recipes have never changed. … I don’t want to mess up a good thing.

“One of the keys to the success of this place is every day in the morning we are here making dough, sauce and cheese fresh. … Nothing is frozen. … We know our product stands on its own and if people try it, they’re going to come back.”

How has this business survived 50 years? “A lot of people have grown up eating our pizza. I’ve seen generations come through here. … Most of our customers are regulars, whether it is once a week, couple times a month, once a month. I know most of our customers by name and so does our counter staff.”

How are you celebrating? “On June 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. we’ll have our 50th anniversary in the parking lot. It should be a really good time. We’re having live music by a band called Forget Hannah. We have an outdoor permit to sell alcohol. We’re giving away free pizza. … We’ll have face painting for the kids, lawn games, raffle baskets with donations from local businesses. All the proceeds from the raffle tickets goes to Little Friends. Donations can be dropped off for DuPage PADS. Clothes, canned goods for the less fortunate.”

What’s a popular topping? “Pepperoni is one of our most-sold toppings. We’ll go through 250 pounds of sausage in a week just on pizzas.”

What’s on your pizza? “I keep it simple. Thin crust and sausage. Nothing else. I want to taste the sauce and the cheese blend. … I can’t do mushrooms or black olives.”

Who is your chef? “Mario Agripino has been here as long as I have. … He’s got this amazing repertoire. We have a full Italian menu here.”

How did the pandemic impact your business? “When we had to shut down the bar and dining room, we lost about 30% of our revenue. We picked up on the carryout side. … We got through it. … The bar is back to normal. (Regulars) refer to it as their ‘Cheers.’”

Any favorite stories? “Since I’ve been here, there have been five or six marriages (between employees). My wife Sara and I met here in 2010, got married in 2015. … Love at first sight.”

What’s your advice for someone starting a business? “Be prepared for the grind. Nothing is going to be handed to you. … You have to be willing to fail in order to allow yourself to succeed.”

Steve Metsch is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun. If you know of a business you’d like to see to profiled in Down to Business, contact Steve Metsch at metschmsfl@yahoo.com.

 

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Elgin News Digest: ‘For Prophet’ headed to movie theaters after Elgin premiere; summer gym activities available through Aug. 9 at Walton Center; The Hill BMX holding open house, free racing, fundraiser Saturday

‘For Prophet’ headed to movie theaters after Elgin premiere

The red carpet was rolled out at Marcus Elgin Cinema Theater Wednesday for the premiere of “For Prophet,” a faith-based comedy filmed in Elgin.

The movie tells the story of a struggling entrepreneur named Damon Fisher who encounters the relentlessly encouraging Archangel Raphael, who reveals he has been chosen by God to become a part-time prophet with the divine mission to save his crumbling and corrupt hometown, according to the IMBD website.

Filmed in and around downtown Elgin, the movie stars Ben Marten (“Chicago Fire”), Valentina Garcia (“Lessons in Chemistry”), Enrico Natale (“The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain”), T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh (“That’s So Raven”), Eddie Jemison (“Nope,” “Ocean” trilogy),and Chicago performer Bert Belasco (BET’s “Let’s Stay Together”) in his final on-screen performance before his death in November 2020.

The movie’s premiere was held at Marcus Cinema on Randall Road ahead of its release in select theaters on Friday, June 21. It toured several national film festivals, where it won several awards, including the Christian Family Film Festival, where its director and writer, Mark Stewart Iverson, won the 2022 Gold Award.

A trailer for the film is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCibD0Atbww&ab_channel=MSIFilms .

Summer gym activities available through Aug. 9 at Walton Center

Hanover Township’s free summer open gym program is available from noon to 4 p.m. through Friday, Aug. 9, at the Izaak Walton Center & Reserve, 899 Jay St., Elgin.

Team building activities, recreation, STEM projects, and arts and crafts activities are offered, according to a township news release.

To register and for more information, call 630-483-5799 or go to www.hanover-township.org .

Known as the Hill, the track is sanctioned by USA BMX and is holding lots of events this summer.
Gloria Casas, The Courier-News

The Hill BMX is holding an open house, a free race for all riders and a “Cruisin’ For a Cause” fundraiser Saturday at its track at the Elgin Sports Complex. (Gloria Casas/The Courier-News)

The Hill BMX holding open house, free racing, fundraiser Saturday

The Hill BMX is holding an open house, a free race for all riders and a “Cruisin’ For a Cause” fundraiser Saturday, June 15, at its track at the Elgin Sports Complex, 709 Sports Way.

The open house will begin at 10 a.m. and is for new riders, according to information provided by the organization. Race registration is from 10:30 to noon and will start shortly after noon.

“Cruisin’ for a Cause,” an event is for girls and women of all BMX abilities, will start at 3 p.m. Coaches will be on hand to work with riders, and there will be raffles for prizes and money. All proceeds will go to Go With The Flow, a nonprofit that provides menstrual products, underwear and toiletries to those who can’t otherwise afford them.

For more information, email thehillbmx@comcast.net or go to thehillbmx.com.

Free admission Sunday for dads at Randall Oaks Zoo and Dolphin Cove

The Dundee Township Park District is offering free admission for dads accompanied by a child on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 16, at Randall Oaks Zoo and at Dolphin Cove Family Aquatic Center.

Dolphin Cove will be holding an eating contest for dads as well, according to a Facebook post.

Dolphin Cove is located at 300 N. Kennedy Drive, Carpentersvlle, and will be open from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The zoo at 1180 N. Randall Road in West Dundee will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, call 847-428-7131.

 

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Aurora approves rezoning for new seafood restaurant

The Aurora City Council on Tuesday night approved rezoning for a new restaurant at a large West Side intersection.

Aldermen voted for rezoning and final plat approval of a development at the southwest corner of Lake Street and Indian Trail.

Under the plan, the 1.5-acre site would be home to Mariscos El Vallartizo, a seafood restaurant and the fourth to be opened by Martha Delgadillo. She also owns restaurants in West Chicago and Joliet, as well as one in North Carolina.

The location, a former commercial property that has been closed for a while, is made up of four parcels. Three of them were zoned B-3 for business and one is R-1 residential, because it has an old house on it. The owner is in the process of getting permits to demolish the house.

At one time, the property held a liquor store, and a member of the family lived behind the store in the house.

The council approved B-3 zoning for the whole parcel, chosen because most of the property already has that zoning. It also matches the B-3 zoning running west along Indian Trail.

Delgadillo has said she would use about 8,000 square feet of the building for the restaurant, and the rest would be restaurant storage. There would be 77 parking spaces on the property.

The intersection is a major one on Lake Street, which is a state highway and an entrance to the city, particularly to downtown. Indian Trail is also a major thoroughfare in town – going east and west – running from the city’s boundary with Naperville on the east, to past Orchard Road on the far West Side.

Delgadillo said the seafood restaurant could be open in four to five months.

slord@tribpub.com

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Dog walkers in a lather over Wicker Park ban

An organized group of dog walkers accused the North Township Trustee of kicking them out of Wicker Park a couple weeks ago where they were walking their dogs together on the trail — something they say they should be able to do in a public park that allows dogs.

However, Trustee Adrian Santos emphasized that while the public is welcome to walk their dogs on the trail, the group of walkers were all clients of the walk’s organizer and he is using park property to conduct his business — something that is not allowed.

The group appeared at Tuesday’s North Township Board of Trustees meeting to claim Santos and the Highland Police kicked them out of Wicker Park where they were walking their dogs in a single file line in an organized fashion, practicing the training techniques they were taught in classes conducted by Lorenzo Longoria of Hammond, who operates a dog training business.

The dog walkers say they do not pay to go on the walks, where the training they paid for is reinforced with their dogs. Similar to running clubs, they gather to practice their techniques.

Santos said his staff has been dealing with the issue since 2023, including removing signs advertising where Longoria and his class can be found inside the park.

Longoria said program participants bring their dogs that he trains to high visibility places with lots of distractions, which he said a free program that helps teach the dogs to be non-reactive.

Longoria said the group was not in any restricted area of the park or in the dog park and neither were they using a shelter or space that would have required a rental fee. The group offered video evidence to back up their claims.

“Respectfully, this is a public park,” Longoria said, adding the group was not anywhere it was not supposed to be.

Santos also provided photos and documentation of Longoria’s Facebook page, which detailed the services offered for training participants and the cost. The page has since been made private.

“The issue is Mr. Lorenzo likes to operate his business here at the park. He cannot do that,” Santos said. The areas shown in photos depict recognized areas of Wicker Park where he is not walking dogs, but conducting classes, he said.

“You cannot run your business here. That is what you are doing,” Santos said.

“If you are enjoying a walk in the park, that’s one thing. If you have 20 people, you are conducting your business… This is a public park with rules,” Santos said. He cited public safety and ease of access for all park users who could be intimidated or interrupted by a group of 20 dog walkers.

The back and forth devolved into a he-said, she-said of alleged bad behavior that included mention of threatening social media posts made against Santos and park staff, and allegations Santos and his staff changed the permitting rules at 10 p.m. the night of the incident, which involved the Highland Police.

Members of the group said they were humiliated when three squad cars pulled up and threatened to cite them for trespassing.

“I’ve been walking in this park for a long time. I felt humiliated, attacked and embarrassed,” one dog walker said.

The group said the police response was overkill and ultimately left them shaken up but uncharged.

Elizabeth Olivo, Santos’ assistant chief of staff, said she found the photos of Longoria’s class with the dogs perching on aspects of the veterans’ memorial particularly offensive as a veteran herself. She said the entire matter could have been handled differently if Longoria had contacted the park staff in advance.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com

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