December 29, 2016 11:00 AM
By DIANE TURNER-HURNS
Journal & Topics Reporter
Like a snowball rolling down a snow-covered hill, gaining mass, picking up momentum and building larger upon each roll is how one can describe the village of Rosemont.
As it grows, more jobs, entertainment and residential programs build upon the village’s successes of 2016 during its 60th anniversary.
Village statistics say, on average, 75,000-100,000 people visit Rosemont daily for work, events, conventions, conferences, entertainment and more. The village has a population of 4,202. More than 60,000 employees commute to Rosemont each day for work at a variety of businesses including multinational corporate headquarters and trade associations.
To continue to meet the needs of a growing village in 2016, a new recreation center was built and opened within months, transportation infrastructure was updated, a new baseball stadium and team are on they way, and public safety successfully expanded community outreach.
As we look back, it was a busy year in the village of the rose. Here are the Journal’s top 10 stories of 2016:
1. Rosemont Expands
More changes are ahead for the 60-year-old village as the new “Pearl” district was approved in early 2016 with construction set to begin in early 2017. The Pearl will be a mixed-use development with restaurants, a 163-room hotel and 100,000 sq. ft. of office space at Balmoral Avenue and Pearl Street on the west side of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
A five-story boutique hotel, named “The Rose” will anchor the Pearl. A couple of years from now, Rosemont residents, employees of local businesses and visitors will have even more places to eat, shop and rest. Then they can cross Balmoral to catch a baseball game at the planned new ballpark or a professional women’s fastpitch game at The Ballpark at Rosemont.
As the village slogan goes, “It’s all here.”
In the past few months, road and other infrastructure improvements have been made, such as laying of new sewer and water lines to prepare for the start of construction.
2. Play Ball!
A new 6,300-seat baseball stadium for a minor league baseball team is slated to be ready in Rosemont by May 2018 with construction beginning this spring. The estimated cost to build the stadium on 10.2 acres in the new Pearl district is $65 million. The stadium will be owned by the village. Construction and operations of the new stadium will add many new jobs. It is expected that other events will also be held at the ballpark.
The stadium will field a new minor league baseball franchise, part of the Durham, NC-based American Association of Independent Professional Baseball Leagues. Officials say they expect the new team to begin competition by May 2018.
Preliminary plans call for a Dave & Buster’s restaurant and $20 million parking garage to be built next to the stadium. Also located along or near Balmoral are the Rosemont Theater, Fashion Outlets Chicago, MB Financial Park at Rosemont, federal security offices, a Xerox office, the Dome at Rosemont, The Ballpark, home of the Chicago Bandits; and the corporate headquarters of Lifesource.
3. Public Safety
This year Rosemont Public Safety executed a multi-pronged community outreach program. Chief Donald E. Stephens III and the department developed several initiatives to reach out to residents of all ages, businesses and visitors in an effort to become more integrated into day-to-day operations, so when people need help, they know where to turn at any time.
The effort has resulted in developing a community outreach team, launching a Facebook page with events, information, photos and warnings; and last winter a monthly community meeting for residents at the Barry Recreation Center. Those meetings featured free CPR courses, K9 demonstrations and other safety programs, and re-launching a citizens police academy.
Public Safety also played a major role in charity events such as Operation North Pole, “Cop on the Roof” for Special Olympics, bike rides and cookouts, the Plane Pull for Special Olympics, various park district and school events to meet with children.
The community meetings will continue in 2017.
4. Let’s Play
There’s a new place to play in Rosemont. The new Dunne Park Recreation Center features a basketball court, playrooms, games and more. Village leaders approved spending $3.6 million on the new park Feb. 3 and it was opened just months later in November. A formal recreation center opening will be held in the near future.
Not only that, two new bocce ball courts opened this year at Margaret J. Lange Park complete with picnic tables and lights. In addition, the basketball courts next to the bocce ball courts were totally reconstructed with the top-of-the-line surfacing and fencing.
Improvements did not stop there. New ballpark lighting at Lange, a new scoreboard and a new game room were added to the park. The game room was overhauled with new carpeting, paint and several modern games added to the room.
Last summer was the largest summer camp turnout ever for the park district, officials said.
For the first time ever, the park district was host to outdoor movies in the park as it received a special license to show popular movies at both Lange and the Barry Recreation Center.
5. Cubs Fever
In Rosemont, Cubs fans of all ages were already waiting at the CTA station before 5 a.m. Nov. 4 to go downtown for the Cubs World Series celebration. A security guard at the River Road transit center said return tickets were selling like “hot cakes.” Not only were fans hopping on the trains and buses from Rosemont, but several stayed in hotels before heading down to the celebration. Prior to the Cubs winning the World Series, Rosemont restaurants and bars were filled including those at MB Financial Park, watching the Cubs win the National League Series title and then the big Kahuna -- the World Series after a nail-biting rain delay.
6. Convention Center
The Donald E. Stephens (DES) Convention Center modernization continues to pay off. This has been another successful year for the DES in record-breaking return shows including: Wizard World Comic-Con and Bruce Campbell’s Horror Fest in August; the World of Wheels in March; the Black Label show in November; Travel Show in January (which includes its own camel); the bridal show in January; Anime shows; the sports collectible show and more.
The expo halls have a complete new look, which pleases attendees and show managers alike. Other reconstruction is being completed throughout the DES, in between shows and conferences.
More than 100,000 visitors, some dressed as superheroes, trees, princesses and more poured into Comic-Con last August creating a ripple effect. Like so many shows, attendees and show workers stayed and ate in Rosemont.
This year Comic-Con executives saluted police by holding a special program with several celebrities providing Captain America shields to about 10 Rosemont officers during the show. The audience gave the officers a standing ovation and each of the celebrities praised police for all the work they do.
Many of the DES conventions offer overflow programs, when extra room is needed for an event. That’s when DES Executive Director Christopher Stephens works closely with the Rosemont Theatre located across from the convention hall.
On the other side of Rosemont, Allstate Arena was ranked the third highest in the U.S. in selling event tickets and 10th globally of all concert venues for 2015. This was announced in early 2016. Not only has it expanded its parking areas in the front and the back, and updated its outdoor signage, inside the arena attendees are utilizing other offerings. So much so that Jack Daniels Co. has signed another two-year contract for its second floor lounge at the arena. Also, to be completed early next year are new box seats in the arena for Rivers Casino and its guests.
7. In Remembrance
More than 2,000 showed their respects for former Rosemont Public Safety Superintendent Donald E. Stephens II during his Aug. 17 funeral service at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church. Stephens died Aug. 13 at the age of 63 surrounded by family. Stephens is survived by Kathy, sons Donald and Christopher, daughter Brittany, four grandchildren, his mother, two brothers and one sister. Stephens II was the oldest of four children of Rosemont’s first Mayor Donald E. Stephens. His siblings include brother Mark, sister Gail and younger brother Bradley, Rosemont’s current mayor.
Rosemont also lost Our Lady of Hope’s Fr. William D. Mannion, pastor emeritus who passed away Jan. 20.
8. Getting Around
The past year, the village saw a wealth of road infrastructure improvements come to an end -- a good end. As a result, Rosemont now has a new and improved intersection at Mannheim and Higgins roads with additional lanes and a modernized traffic light system; a new Balmoral Avenue exit built off west Mannheim, leading motorists directly into the village; and, Balmoral Avenue from River Road was extended heading directly to O’Hare. The extension of Balmoral, called the new gate to Rosemont, was opened earlier in the year following months of construction on the west side of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
Most of the infrastructure expansion and updates were due to IDOT construction to improve intersections along Mannheim through and near Rosemont, including those at Montrose Avenue, Lawrence Avenue, Zemke Boulevard, and Higgins Road along with the I-190 interchange. This was part of the massive construction to widen Mannheim through the airport area.
As a result of the I-90 expansion, new bridges were constructed including the one over Higgins Road and Scott Street. For most of the year, Higgins had been reduced from four lanes to two causing motorists to slow and merge with other traffic while the bridge work was completed. Currently, the end is near and new lights are now being installed under bridge.
That’s not all. Work that began last summer is almost complete on improvements to Rosemont's CTA Blue Line Station and parking lot off River Road. The station serves nearly 6,000 commuters a day. The work included a pavement update and reconfiguration of the entrance area aimed at overhauling the existing parking lot, drop-off, taxi and bus pickup areas. New pedestrian walkways are also being designed.
In addition, Rosemont and Pace agreed to another year of service for Pace bus services to and from the Rosemont Transit Center to all major venues and businesses in the village. The cost is free to riders.
This year saw 60th anniversary celebrations in the village including the unveiling of the statue of Rosemont’s founder and first mayor, Donald E. Stephens, outside village hall on Devon Avenue. More than 100 people gathered to watch the unveiling of the statue of Stephens holding a rose and looking out over iconic Rosemont venues such as the convention center, arena, waterfall and more. The Rosemont Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps provided music during the dedication on Father’s Day June 19, when the temperature reached just over 90 degrees. Due to Stephens’ initial support, the Cavaliers have grown to worldwide fame.
In April more than 1,200 turned out to boogie the night away at the convention center to celebrate the village’s 60th anniversary during the annual Rosemont Voters League banquet. Among the attendees were more than 20 of the original founding families.
Several turned out for the unveiling of the new and iconic Rosemont waterfall, another “gate” to Rosemont. It was formerly unveiled on Mother’s Day, May 8 at its River and Higgins roads location. The new waterfall is larger than the former and has been modernized to use less water.
10. Giving Back
Rosemont is a town of caring people who help in many ways to assist those in need, either individually or in groups. For instance, under clear, crisp skies Friday, Oct. 23 more than 200 people of all ages participated in the first ever “Glow 5K” race/walk which started at Rosemont School on Ruby Street. It wound its way through the Scott Street neighborhood in a sea of pink. More than $2,000 was raised with half going to support breast cancer research and the other half to the school.
Rosemont residents helped for weeks to decorate and prepare the DES convention center to look like a winter palace full of gifts, candy and games as part of the annual Operation North Pole in December.
Local businesses continually raise funds for Rosemont’s charity, Helping Hand, a non-profit group that provides help to local children and residents in need throughout the year often partnering with schools. This includes gift cards, turkeys and funds to pay for summer camp and other park activities.
School teachers, administrators consistently work to raise funds for the school at local restaurants such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. They worked behind the counter and also sold their baked goods for the cause.
The community stepped up to donate funds toward new band equipment for Rosemont School, making for Christmas in May as their goal was met of close to $2,000 for cymbals and other equipment.
Not only did local residents participate in the successful “Down Syndrome Dash” which started at MB Financial Park and wound its way through the village last June, but restaurants offered special meals and gifts for participants.
Rosemont was at the center of Illinois in October as thousands of first responders and actors from around the state participated in an emergency training exercise. The exercise involved realistic practice for terrorist events and took place around the area of O’Hare Airport, The Ballpark at Rosemont and the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. Cook County said it was the largest contingency exercise ever held in Illinois...The Rosemont-based Chicago Bandits won the women’s national fastpitch championship for the second year in a row.