by Dan Rafter
Terraco Inc. and Frontline Real Estate Partners — both based in the Chicago suburbs — saw something in Kankakee. It’s why the companies joined forces to purchase the previously underutilized Meadowview Shopping Center for $1.7 million.
Today, the center — located in the heart of Kankakee at Kennedy Drive and Brookmont Boulevard — is known as The Shoppes at Meadowview. It is anchored by a busy Ultra Foods grocery store. Co-tenants include such big names as McDonald’s, Radio Shack and the Meadowview Theater.
Jeff Bennett, founder and president of Kanakakee’s McColly Bennett Commercial, isn’t surprised that Terraco and Frontline were willing to make ths investment in the Kankakee area. This part of Illinois offers plenty of opportunity for investors, he said. And commercial deals here are on the rise.
“We are seeing growth in all commercial areas,” Bennett said. “Retail, industrial, medical office, sales and leasing, we’re seeing growth in all of them. We think Kankakee County fundamentally is very sound today.”
The new life at The Shoppes of Meadowview is just one example of this. And Bennett says that the pace of development and sales activity here isn’t about to slow.
“Retail has continued to grow on the Route 50 corridor in Bradley and the Route 45 corridor in Bourbonnais,” Bennett said. “Just look at The Shoppes of Meadowview, our longtime regional shopping center. Now it is a neighborhood shopping center. There has been significant reinvestment in that, and that is starting to have a ripple effect on the retail sector.”
Investments by Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais and Kankakee Community College are making a difference, too. Both institutions are expanding off their original campuses and deeper into their surrounding communities. They are also providing workforce development services, training the future workers who will land jobs in and around Kankakee.
What is behind the rise in commercial activity here? Bennett points to several reasons. Kanakakee is located just 45 miles from Chicago and boasts easy access to the city. There’s also a diverse economy here, with colleges, retailers, manufacturers, medical facilities and tech firms all adding tax dollars to the Kanakakee region’s pot.
And, of course, more than 100,000 people flock each summer to Olivet Nazarene University’s Bourbonnais campus to watch the Chicago Bears hold training camp. This is more important than you might think. As Bennett says, many people who come to training camp become interested in either living in or doing business in the Kankakee area.
“They say that this is a nice place and that it’s not that far from Chicago,” Bennett said. “The area interests them.”
The Kankakee region also recently saw a ground-breaking for a new Interstate-57 interchange at 6000 North Road near Manteno and the site of a proposed new Illiana Expressway. Bennett said that this project — and the hope of a new expressway — is providing yet another boost to the region.
“We believe that this new interchange will create an abundance of new commercial land,” Bennett said. “It is one of our game-changers.”
Greg Leutloff, a commercial broker with McColly Bennett, agrees with Bennett on the importance of the new interchange.
The new land could offer relief to buyers who simply aren’t finding enough industrial space in the Kankakee region, Leutloff said.
“We think it is important to get this property developed industrially,” Bennett said. “We want to offer new industrial properties to buyers in our market. We seem to have run out of large industrial spaces, industrial buildings, in our county. The industrial buildings that we do have in our county are all being utilized. It is time now to look for buildings that are 55,000 square feet, 100,000 square feet or more.”
There are other signs of a bright future here. Two formerly stalled residential projects — Eagles Landing in Manteno and Cobblestone in Bourbonnais — are seeing new homes being built once again. That is having its own spillover, encouraging new retail development in the area.
“We have found that there is a pipeline of people interested in this good place to raise a family and send kids to good schools,” Bennett said. “As that takes off, we’ve found that the retail development is following. Our local industries are expanding, too. They are hiring people. We are excited about the future, our next month, our next year and our next 10 years.”