By Todd Wessell, Journal & Topics
April 27, 2022
Village’s “Pivot” Has Led to New, Steady Streams of Revenue, from Retail to Entertainment, Sports
As Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens says, “If my dad was giving us a test, I think we passed.”
In the 15 years since the death of Rosemont founder and longtime mayor Donald Stephens, the legacy built by the elder Stephens has not only been equalled by his son, but has also arguably been surpassed.
Having successfully maneuvered a decade ago from the disappointing loss of not being selected as the location of Illinois’ 10th casino, Rosemont “pivoted” itself to become one of the most unique communities in the country.
Since Brad Stephens became mayor, the town of 4,200 became an even greater development juggernaut. As many as 75,000 people work on a daily basis in the village for a wide range of large and small companies. The village has developed two baseball parks, one used mainly for softball, the other for a minor league baseball team that has groomed many Major League Baseball stars. Also developed was the Dome at Parkway Bank Park where season long events, competitions and practices are regularly held for baseball, football, volleyball and lacrosse athletes. Even boxing practices and events have been held there.
One major addition to the village’s growing portfolio was the development of the 500,000 sq. ft. Chicago Fashion Outlet mall on land just west of the Rosemont Theater along the Tri-State Tollway. Approximately 100 stores sell fashion-related products to hundreds of thousands of shoppers every year. To the village, millions of dollars in sales tax income is generated.
One of the shiniest gems in Rosemont’s jewelry case is its entertainment district that’s located on the site for which the proposed casino was earmarked. Rather than walking away with their tails between their legs when the casino idea was rejected, village officials turned that empty property into Parkway Bank Park in 2012. In the center of the Park, concerts and other outdoor summer events are staged. In the winter, a professional ice skating rink is open to the public.
Circling the central area are numerous restaurants, a business offering indoor skydiving, a comedy club, piano bar and many other entertainment-related venues.
Before becoming mayor of Rosemont, Stephens served 18 years as an elected village board member. He grew up in Rosemont where he attended Rosemont Elementary School and Leyden High School. From the founding of Rosemont in 1956 by a group of local citizens of which Doanld Stephens was its leader, the town steadily matured. During those years Allstate Arena, where concerts and sporting events and various other kinds of entertainment are hosted, was created and built. The high-end Rosemont Theater was also developed along with about 15 hotels and what is now the massive Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. The vision of the late mayor provided the glue needed to not only build these major structures, but to ensure that each component works with one another. For example, people from out of town who attend conferences and conventions in the Stephens center need hotel rooms to stay. No problem in Rosemont. They also demand nice places to dine. The entertainment district is only a short distance away from the convention center, theater and hotels. Visitors need a convenient way to travel to Rosemont. No problem. Next door to the village is one of the world’s largest airports, O’Hare. Three interstate highways converge in and around Rosemont providing each traffic access.
“I think we hit it out of the park,” says the current mayor referring to the development of the outlet mall. He credited real estate broker Marc Offit and village lawyers, one of whom is Don Storino, for their hard work in making the dream come true. He also pointed with pride to the Chicago Dogs minor league baseball team that plays its home games at village-owned Impact Field. The Dogs are one of the most successful teams in the American Association of Professional Baseball league. This July, the league’s All-Star game will be played in Rosemont.
“All of this is tied into providing people a great time. That’s what we do here,” says the mayor.
Stephens credited many others for Rosemont’s success, especially village employees, who worked together as a team to keep things moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We minded our pennies. We all had to chip-in. We’re rebounding with more shows at the convention center. Everyone here handled things in a common sense way,” he continues. He especially credited his wife, Suzi, and their children for their support, along with attorneys Bill Ryan and the late Peter Rosenthal.
“I’ve worked in every department in the village,” the mayor mentions. “I get along with everybody for the most part. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”
He adds, “You just constantly work and think outside the box. It was just a situation where I was in the right place at the right time.”