When the I-90 interchange at Route 23 opened in late 2019, Marengo officials saw it as a step toward developing a manufacturing hub.
One year after Marengo’s 2021 mayoral race, in which the direction of the corridor was a top priority, the city is beginning to make slow, albeit steady progress.
The hope for the interchange — a $31.2-million project that connected Route 23 to I-90 — is for the area to welcome manufacturing and industry, officials have long said. The interchange is the first and only that connects McHenry County to I-90.
Manufacturing, in addition to being stable, will bring both more residents and housing to Marengo, said Colleen Helfers, executive director for the Marengo Union Chamber of Commerce
“I’m hoping to see manufacturing come back,” she said. “I believe Marengo is a hidden gem.”
Before buildings go up, utility work must create the foundation for future businesses, Marengo City Administrator Will Stefaniuk said. To help with that, the city hopes to receive nearly $27 million from the state. The city anticipates some of that money next month.
“We’ve had some growing interest from commercial brokers,” Stefaniuk said. “We’re basically waiting for funding at this point.”
That money is still making its way through state approvals, Stefaniuk said, but is at the final review stage. A portion of that money would then go to the city, which will “greatly impact and expedite development.”
Specifically, the money will be used for water and wastewater infrastructure, both by the tollway and throughout the city, Marengo Director of Public Works Rob Lamz said. That could begin in 2023.
“We have some preliminary ideas of what will be required to put pipe in the ground and construct this,” Lamz said. “We want to make sure we’re making the correct decisions.”
Developments near the corridor could bring growth to not just the city, but the county and greater area, Buehler said. The site sits close to halfway between O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Rockford International Airport.
“In prior decades McHenry County has been somewhat landlocked,” he said. “That can hinder economic development by not having direct access to the interstate system. Now that we have that (access) it will open up opportunities for us.”
Helfers echoed the importance of doing the project right the first time. She called the progress so far setting up the foundation “phenomenal.” She compared going too fast to the California Gold Rush in the 19th century, which saw thousands rush in, but not everyone win.
“I would love to see my children and grandchildren reap the benefits of the corridor,” she said. “It’s important to have the patience and the vision to see that we do this right.”
Stefaniuk, who took the job as the city’s top official this year, said his job priority was to grow Marengo. He sees manufacturing as a path toward “a mix of a lot of things.” If a business park is ultimately built, it could lead to residential, grocery stores or even hotels, he said.
“If we get funding this year, commercial can sprout up in the next two or three years, depending on what kind of outfit it is,” Stefaniuk said.
Still, some disagreement about the corridor has come up. In last year’s mayoral race between Mayor John Koziol and James Regelin, the pair disagreed on the strategic direction of the corridor. Regelin also said Koziol had not been aggressive enough in pursuing new developments.
Koziol said a lot had been accomplished in his first term, and he wanted business expansion paired with a “buffer zone.” But Regelin said he wanted a medical facility built in the area.
“Hopefully Marengo becomes a premiere industrial, maybe manufacturing or business community, but then you go maybe eight miles north and we’re back in the nice, small community feel,” Koziol said in 2021. “I never want to lose that.”
Koziol could not be reached for comment for this story.
The county also expects to continue a “strong supportive role” in any development, Buehler said. In addition to having helped fund the I-90 corridor project with $7.7 million, expanding the county’s Enterprise Zone to include Marengo could help incentivize businesses.
The county has also included the corridor’s development as part of its strategic plan for the next few decades.
“I think things have been moving,” Buehler said. “Outwardly it may appear nothing is happening, but there have been conversations on what’s going to be needed down there for [years],” he said. “Getting it right is more important than getting it done fast.”