From the Archives: April 2008
Gardner, Edgerton, county and state officials are back from a two-day fact-finding mission to the Chicago area where BNSF operates an intermodal logistics park similar to one planned to open near Gardner in 2009.
Participants visited city, public safety and economic development officials in Will County, the fastest growing county in the country and home to BNSF Logistics Park Chicago.
Of particular interest to Kansas contingent were the villages of Bolingbrook and Elwood, communities about 30 miles apart in the southern reaches of the Chicago metro area.
Bolingbrook, population 80,000, is located about 30 miles south of Chicago and 30 miles north of the intermodal.
With access to Interstates 55, 80 and 355, the village has grown from 400,000 square feet of industrial warehousing to 26 million square feet over the past 22 years.
Subsequently, the village’s property tax rate has decreased from more than $2 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation in 1986 to 61 cents per $100 of EAV in 2007.
“The founding fathers had wanted Bolingbrook to be a residential community,” James Boan, village attorney, told the Kansas contingent. “They were going to support themselves on small strip centers. The wisdom of that proved to be flawed in the fact that city services were expensive without any other tax base. The real estate property tax rate became very high and actually drove people out.”
Bolingbrook’s economic boom was driven by Mayor Roger Claar, who has been in office since 1986.
Claar serves as the city’s primary economic development negotiator and uses incentives sparingly.
“The only incentives the village has ever given an industrial warehouse was Remington Business Park, which was the first park that came in,” Boan said.
Boan added that incentives — typically 50 percent for three to five years — are only considered when Bolingbrook is in competition with cities in neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin.
“(The mayor) says if you’re looking for something to level the playing field, we can talk,” he said. “If you just want a reward to come to Bolingbrook, I don’t have anything to give you.”
Bolingbrook’s mayor also is a stickler for aesthetics and has exacting exterior design standards for warehouses that locate in the village.
Boan said truck traffic hasn’t been a major issue for Bolingbrook. Truck traffic is restricted by weight limits and trucks are limited to specific corridors. Police enforce weight limits with portable scales.
“We’ve found that because of our easy (highway) access, the truck traffic is pretty much contained,” he said. “There has been very little interaction between the residential and truck traffic. The other thing we’ve found is that truck drivers are fairly aware of the rush hour traffic, and they travel off peak. We’ll see that 9 o’clock in the evening on is when a lot of the truck traffic is moving, when the residential traffic starts to diminish.”
However, trailer storage issues prompted the city to adopt an ordinance banning trailers and containers from being parked on a property for more than 30 days.
Boan said all across the Chicago area there is a growing demand for container and trailer storage.
He said that is because it is less expensive for shippers to build new containers than it is to ship them back to China.
“There is more demand to bring the components in than there is to ship them back,” he said. “They told us (at a trade conference) it costs about $2,500 to make a container in China, and it’s not worth it to ship it back.”
Thirty miles south of Bolingbrook lies the village of Elwood, which borders the BNSF intermodal logistics park.
The intermodal logistics park, which opened in 2002, was built on a former army ammunition plant and is expected to build out to 17 million square feet of warehousing.
Elwood, a farming community with a population of 2,300, authorized a 100 percent Tax Increment Financing district for 23 years to support the development.
A planned interchange fell through when the governor at the time reallocated funds earmarked for the project.
However, the city did receive some upfront funding that was used for infrastructure improvements, including curbs and gutters and has a service agreement with the development for city services.
Aimee Ingalls, village administrator, said because of the intermodal, Elwood went from having a part time to a full time city government.
Residential growth has been stagnant, but Ingalls expects Elwood to eventually develop like the rest of Will County.
“Some (cities) are growing by 200 percent, but we haven’t seen that for whatever reason,” she said. “But I think we will.”
Dave Albert, Elwood police chief, said 85 percent of his call load is related to the intermodal.
Police calls range from tractor trailer accidents to theft.
Albert said his officers maintain a visible presence in the area leading in and out of the intermodal to discourage overweight loads and other violations.
Albert said truck traffic isn’t much of a problem on city streets because a ban is strictly enforced.
The penalty for driving a tractor trailer on a city street in Elwood is $150.
“Occasionally trucks will bleed in there and we arrest them promptly,” Albert said. “…My job is to maintain the quality of life.”
Bill Offerman, Elwood fire chief, said his department has a service agreement with the logistics park that requires the developer to pay the fire district 5 cents per square foot for each warehouse.
He said his department responds to about 150 calls per year at the intermodal and about 350 per year at the logistics park.
Offerman said his call volume has increased 92 percent over the past two years because of the intermodal.
He said the calls range from fires to forklift injuries.
“We’ve had cranes tip over, collapse, the motors on them catch fire, the hostlers turn over,” Offerman said. “We also get calls for containers with seals missing.
“…You’re going to have semi rollovers, diesel spills, shifting loads.”
Offerman said every day at noon, truck traffic backs up in all three directions at the rural two-lane intersection leading into the intermodal.
The backup poses a problem for public safety personnel in getting equipment into the facility, he said.
Offerman advised Gardner officials to ensure that a four-lane road is built leading into the intermodal.
“It’s backing up on the two-lane road,” he said. “Coming out’s not a big issue, but going in is.”
Offerman added that the city has two full time employees who pick up trash — including bottles of urine — thrown from trucks entering exiting the facility.
“Plan on having a couple of people picking up the trash everyday,” he said. “Fast food bags, (soft drink) bottles. They relieve themselves and throw it out the window.”