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From Vacant Shops To Thriving Districts: How The Village Of Brookfield Is Spurring Development


Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Kit Ketchmark, a lifelong resident of the Village of Brookfield, could get all the shopping, dining and entertainment he wanted with a quick trip into the town center. 

In the decades that followed, however, the town, roughly 13 miles west of Downtown Chicago, saw many businesses come and go, leaving residents with fewer options. 

“For a while, we took whatever came our way to just attract any business to fill vacancies,” said Ketchmark, who is a ​village trustee, former village president and liaison to the Brookfield Economic Development Commission. “What that led to was a storefront that would be filled for a short time, and then that was empty again, and the town was desolate for quite a while.”

Today, things look quite different. 

Over the last 10 years, Brookfield leaders and its EDC have worked hard to attract top businesses and build new developments. The town has invested more than $60M in infrastructure, with $20M in further improvements planned for this year, and it is in the process of a comprehensive zoning code update for the first time since the mid-1960s. 

It is implementing long-range planning tools such as the Brookfield Comprehensive Plan, the Energize Ogden Corridor Plan and others that direct significant investments in the community, Ketchmark said.

“All of this helped us set the table to let people know we’re here and we’re open for business,” he said. 

Committed To The Village

Brookfield now has four distinct commercial districts and two light industrial districts. The town has embraced adaptive reuse, transforming buildings that have stood since Brookfield’s founding in the late 1800s into popular restaurants, a distillery, multifamily homes and what is billed as the “world’s largest arcade,” to name a few. 

“We aren't looking to just fill storefronts — we're looking for the investor, developer or businessperson who's committed to the town and sees that we, as the local government, are committed as well,” Ketchmark said. 

Brookfield has four tax increment financing districts through which it offers property improvement grants. Through this program, a business owner can put up to $40K into improving their building facade, and $20K of it will be matched by the town. The local bank will also provide a zero-interest loan for up to $20K for a property improvement grant recipient.

Phil Richard, president of the First National Bank of Brookfield and member of the EDC, said this is a real-world example of how the village is supporting the business community and attracting new businesses. 

He told the story of a property owner who wanted to convert an old dental office into a larger mixed-use building, but was impeded by a Brookfield Zoo Chicago maintenance shed next door. The EDC encouraged the owner to speak with the zoo and ended up brokering a deal in which the village would provide TIF funding to support the owner developing the property and the owner, in turn, would build a new warehouse on the zoo’s property. 

“This is a great example of the support we are giving to property owners to create more residential and mixed-use downtown,” Richard said. “This is what the village has in mind, and it has streamlined its zoning and approval process so developers can come in and see that it is relatively fast and easy to build here.” 

In the town’s Congress Park area, Ketchmark said the village hopes to bring in a partner to create a unique mixed-use development to take advantage of its excellent location. Ogden Avenue, where Congress Park is located, sees more than 22,000 cars pass through it each day. Meanwhile, Brookfield’s Grand, Prairie and 8 Corners districts are known as the town’s entertainment areas with close to a dozen restaurants. 

Brookfield’s light industrial districts are “virtually 100% full,” while the downtown districts near Brookfield Zoo, which attracts more than 2M visitors each year, are also bustling, Ketchmark said. 

“Each one of these districts is very different, so if a business, developer or investor comes to us and tells us what they want to do, we can find a part of town that is right for them,” he said. 

One developer who has experienced firsthand how the Village of Brookfield is supporting projects is Michael Gatto, who has completed four apartment projects in Downtown Brookfield, with two more under construction. 

“Brookfield is one of the most responsive towns I've ever worked with,” he said. “It’s rare for a community to acknowledge they're not perfect, that they need to grow as the marketplace grows and changes. They've done a very good job over the past 10 years understanding that and changing the zoning code, which is the single most important, controlling document that a town has to spur development.” 

Gatto said his work in Brookfield has been streamlined thanks to the processes the town has put in place. He credited the responsive communication style of the board of directors and staff for helping him get projects done quickly and efficiently, and for encouraging a cooperative attitude among stakeholders in town. 

‘On The Same Team’

In one instance, Gatto wanted to reduce the frontage requirements on a building and create more green space. This was something he believed he had the right to do without seeking approval of the board. But, because of how helpful they were and how streamlined communication had been throughout the process, he sought approval anyway. 

“There's a unique aspect in that town that everybody's on the same team with the same goals,” Gatto said. 

Gatto said he hopes to do more development in the town in the future, in no small part due to the fact that he senses a strong sense of pride in the community. 

“I can't stress enough the pride of ownership and community that Brookfield has,” he said. “ I don't think there's a better community in Chicago’s western suburbs to have ownership in.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between the Village of Brookfield and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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