McHENRY – The city of McHenry has been working to fill the empty storefronts and bring in new businesses, Mayor Sue Low told a crowd of 100-plus people.
The debate Thursday evening between the two McHenry mayoral candidates, Low and former Mayor Steve Cuda, drew the largest group of any of the debates hosted by the McHenry County chapter of the League of Women Voters this election season, several volunteers said.
Much of the debate centered around development and the role of the mayor.
"I really think that's the role of the mayor to meet with these folks who might want to relocate to McHenry, to meet with the individuals, the businesses that are presently here," Cuda said.
"One of the complaints I've heard in the past is that the city is very reliant on staff to do that type of work. People like to meet with elected officials. They really do. They think it's important to sit down face-to-face with the people who have been elected by the public."
Low disputed that point, saying that as a retired special education teacher she has the time to be a full-time mayor. She was appointed in 2003 and elected twice since then.
Cuda is a attorney based out of Woodstock, which, he said, has given him experience in zoning, land development and annexation issues. He was mayor for two terms, from 1993 to 2001.
"We are constantly seeking new users, seeking new businesses to come to our location," Low said. "We've been successful in redevelopment. The Dominick's store is now home to Hobby Lobby and Goodwill. The Wick's empty store is now home to Ross Dress for Less and JoAnn's Fabrics. Borders will now be redeveloped."
Cuda pointed to Walmart's move to Johnsburg and the proposed Thornton's gas station at Richmond Road and Pearl Street as examples of McHenry losing out on potential development.
The city of McHenry did everything it could to keep Walmart where it was, Low said. It offered to match Johnsburg's offer, she said, but Walmart didn't want to renovate; it wanted to move to a new space and construct a new building.
As for Thornton's, she said, the business decided against pursuing that location after hearing what the residents had to say.
The two candidates also disagreed on the new public works building.
Cuda criticized the decision to renovate an old building for public works instead of constructing a new one.
The building, located behind Jewel, will end up costing more to repair going forward, he said, and the $5.6 million it cost to purchase it, convert it and put a new roof on it was close to the estimated $6 million it would have cost to build new.
When Cuda was mayor, a plan was drawn up that would have put the facility near the South Wastewater Treatment Plant off Charles J. Miller Road, but where it is now is more centrally located, Low said.