Forever sandwiched between the city of Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, thousands of workers, travelers and visitors each day can’t help but pass through the tiny village that may be short on square miles, but remains big on things to do. The year 2023 was no different, with food on the minds of many (looking at you Portillo’s, Big Chicken, others), property buys and the well-being of people among Rosemont’s top stories from the last 365 days.
Journal & Topics Media Group publishes the Rosemont Journal every Wednesday and daily online. We look forward to another year of covering news in the town where, simply stated, “You Can’t Miss It”.
Here are our top 10 stories from the year that was:
One of the most talked-about stories of the year in Rosemont involved the construction and opening of a new Portillo’s fast food restaurant. The drive-through-only operation took a few months to construct at the northwest corner of Mannheim and Higgins roads, after the village earlier this year purchased the property for $1.1 million and demolished the former Pine Grove Restaurant. The village then turned the property over to a developer, which helped land the restaurant. A very-visible construction effort followed with crews working weekends to see the eatery opened by Thanksgiving and another $2.4 million approved by the village for site work. The village expects to receive millions in annual sales tax revenue from the new business.
The issue of migrants seeking asylum in the United States reached Rosemont’s doorstep, and several other area towns, in 2023. An ordinance approved by the village board Dec. 11 seeks to stop what village officials call the “inhumane” practice of busing migrants, many who crossed the border in Texas, and dropping them in random areas without proper notice. In early December, seven buses reportedly made Rosemont a dropping off point for migrants entering the Chicago area. The new ordinance sets fines for busing companies illegally dropping off migrants, and requires detailed plans be submitted in advance of any future drop offs.
One of the last available pieces of property in Rosemont large enough for a new development envisioned by the village came to the forefront mid-year. Rosemont trustees agreed to a $12.75 million loan from the village’s general fund for the purchase of approximately 19 acres west of Mannheim Road along the south side of I-90. By November, that amount had been upped to about $27 million. The village remains hopeful the site is prime for commercial development, or one that will generate more tax revenue than residential or industrial. At least two unnamed developers have expressed interest in the site, said Mayor Brad Stephens. “I’ve had my eyes on this for years,” Stephens said in August about the site, which years ago contained a small golf course.
Restaurant stories continue to make headlines in Rosemont. The chatter only went up on Aug. 4 as retired NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal stopped by the village to check things out at his new restaurant, Big Chicken. The towering 7-ft. O’Neal posed for pictures and signed autographs with village staffers, restaurant owners and customers before and after a ribbon-cutting for his new joint, which opened in July on Higgins Road west of River. After the festivities, Shaq was whisked away to a performance that night at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.
Rosemont residents may have hardly noticed, but a confirmed “weak” EF-0 tornado spun through the village during heavy storms July 12. Based on their observations, the National Weather Service said the “O’Hare to Park Ridge” twister produced 85 mile-per-hour winds between 7:02 and 7:07 p.m. It was about 300 yards wide at its max, and formed just south of Touhy Avenue near the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90). From there is scooted across the Allstate Arena parking lot knocking over ticket booths before scurrying eastward across Mannheim Road.
Peter Schaul, previously a social studies teacher at Rosemont Elementary, became the school’s principal succeeding Laurie Kovalcik at the start of the 2023-24 school year. “Our highest priority is our children,” Schaul said in an August interview with the Journal & Topics. “Listening, communicating and forming positive relationships are keys for serving the best interest of Rosemont School students.” Schaul, who started in the new role July 1, will earn a $105,000 salary in his first year. In addition to 15 years as a social studies teacher, he’s led annual school trips to Washington, D.C., and Springfield, and coached volleyball and basketball.
Another very-visible effort added a dash of extra color to the holidays, all in the name of brightening the season for children who could use some. Near life-sized soldier figurines from the “Nutcracker” popped up at about 20 locations in Rosemont, as performances of the ballet took place at Rosemont Theatre. A check presentation held Dec. 3 at the theater celebrated the donation of $20,000 from sponsorships of the figurines to Advocate Children’s Hospital.
The four-lane Balmoral Avenue bridge over the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) in Rosemont officially became the Donald E. Stephens Memorial Bridge during a ceremony Nov. 13. Local, state and village officials attend the ceremony formally dedicating the bridge, which the late Mayor Stephens worked to bring to Rosemont. The bridge and Balmoral Avenue extension, opened about a decade ago, serves as a vital link between Rosemont’s popular entertainment district and O’Hare airport’s terminals located a mile west.
It was their best season to date, with the minor league baseball Chicago Dogs reaching the American Association finals in late September. Bringing a championship home to Impact Field in Rosemont was not meant to be, however, as the Dogs bowed to the Kansas City Monarchs in the best-of-five series, 3-1. Playoff fever began to build late in the season as it looked like the Dogs had a chance to possibly go far. They beat the Cleburne Railroaders in the opening series of the playoffs, before taking down the Milwaukee Milkmen in the league championship series to advance. An 11th-inning victory in Rosemont clinched that series for the Dogs.
Again keeping the safety of residents in mind, Rosemont cleared the way for a new street and eventual construction of new guardhouses for residents living south of Higgins Road between River and I-294. The fourth and final six-flat behind the 7-Eleven strip center on Higgins, just west of River, was demolished by the village in September. A new street will be constructed behind the center, with guardhouses at both ends at Gage and Willow Creek Drive. Guardhouses also currently exist at entrances to the village’s residential neighborhood further west along Higgins. Plans also call for a wooden pedestrian bridge and walkway at nearby Dunne Park to be removed.
The village decided to take back running the Parkway Bank Park indoor sports dome effective Jan. 1 after a year of private management…A redesigned version of the village’s Sparkle Light Festival opened Nov. 17 at Impact Field…A five-year extension with Athletes Unlimited to play professional softball at Parkway Bank Sports Complex was signed in October…Rosemont Public Safety officers John Horn and Joe Gentile were honored by the Mount Prospect Village Board for helping save the life a man in cardiac arrest at Old Orchard Country Club…The village board in August approved allocating $26 million for improvements at the new village hall near Rosemont Theatre that’s expected to open in 2024…Chief Greg Nazuka, Captain Ron Muich and Sgt. Walter Kruppa retired from the Rosemont Public Safety Department…Saltwater Coastal Grill opened with a ribbon cutting in the village’s entertainment district June 7…Stan’s Donuts officially dunked its way into Rosemont with a ribbon cutting for the restaurant’s new location on Higgins Road…Up to 1,000 guests were expected at the annual Rosemont Voter’s League dinner dance April 1 at the Stephens Convention Center…Services were held in March for Ben Peterson, 45, a Park Ridge police officer who grew up in Rosemont. Peterson died on Feb. 18 after battling cancer.
By TOM WESSELL