Village presidents tout growth, development at Chain O’ Lakes Chamber of Commerce luncheon

The Chain O' Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce first State of the Village Luncheon invited village presidents to update chamber members on their towns on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Shown, from left, are Fox Lake's Donny Schmit, Volo's Steve Henley, Chamber member Kathrine Violett, Richmond's Toni Wardanian, and Spring Grove's Mark Eisenberg.

The Chain O’ Lakes region is a harbor and the communities in it are the ships in that harbor, Fox Lake Village President Donny Schmit said.

When people visit and shop in and around the Chain O’ Lakes, they fill that harbor and lift up each of the towns, Schmit said Tuesday at the first-ever Chain O’ Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce State of the Villages Luncheon.

“Working together we can do so much more than working by ourselves,” Schmit said.

The luncheon, held at the Camp Duncan YMCA in Ingleside, was a first for the chamber organization, Executive Director Therese Matthys said. She and the board hope to make the luncheon an annual event, allowing their members and the village leadership to network.

In addition to Schmit, speakers included Spring Grove Village President Mark Eisenberg, Richmond Village President Toni Wardanian and Volo Village President Steve Henley.

Each of the village presidents shared with the chamber members in attendance what is happening in their towns, including new businesses, water and sewer improvements and other improved resident services.

Wardanian pointed to the redevelopment of what was Memorial Hall as event venue The District, park improvements, a planned kayak launch and the approval of a marijuana dispensary in the village as some of the good news coming out of Richmond in the past year.

The downtown is not just antique stores. Now, more restaurants, an art gallery, and specialty shops line the street. As one of the village merchants put it, the downtown is “hip-storic,” Wardanian said.

Richmond Village President Toni Wardanian gave the Chain O' Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce members an update on State of the Village at a luncheon held Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

“What used to be the town of yesteryear is now Richmond, rich in history with an eye to the future,” Wardanian said.

Spring Grove is seeing new residents, Eisenberg said. In 2022, 15 new single-family home permits were issued and in the past four years, the village has approved “more homes than in the previous 10.”

Some of those new residents are adults who grew up in Spring Grove, moved away and are now coming back to raise their own families.

“This used to be the city no one wanted to live in. They are now realizing it wasn’t that bad,” Eisenberg said.

State and federal grants have allowed Spring Grove to expand its water system and build a new gazebo in the town square.

The challenge the village is now facing is its wastewater treatment plant. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has threatened legal action against the village, as the plant is not removing ammonia and other chemicals.

“We are currently working on solutions,” Eisenberg said, while noting that functioning wastewater plant is essential to attracting business to town.

Volo has also seen a population increase, from just 180 people when the town was incorporated in 1993 to 6,122 as of the 2020 U.S. Census, Henley said. New apartments are coming. Volo is the “15th-fastest growing town” in the state of Illinois.

Business is coming, too. The old Dunkin’ is becoming a Dairy Queen Chill and Grill, a new Dunkin’ is planned and an Italian deli is planned at a former deli in town, Henley said.

At the same time, the village of Volo has purchased land. The idea, Henley said, is to have more control over what is built in the town’s heritage district, developing the now village-owned land through private-public partnerships.

There was a good-natured ribbing back and forth between the village presidents, too. Eisenberg asked if they could hire the intern whose cold-call to a Chicago dispensary owner introduced the man to Richmond.

“We have been trying to get a cannabis person in Spring Grove, and Richmond gets an intern and, boom,” the town now has one set to open in early April, Eisenberg said.

Schmit teased that Fox Lake will “annex Volo one day.”

But, he said, when the Chain O’ Lakes towns work together “the better the region does.”

“By collaborating, and making contacts outside the village, that is how (to) make it better for your residents,” Schmit said.