O’Fallon Candidate Forum: Mayoral Candidates Talk Economic Development, Page Extension
Part I: Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) questions O'Fallon Mayoral Candidates Bill Hennessy and Dave Goewert on their views on Tuesday.
O’Fallon Mayoral Candidates fielded questions about economic development, public safety and the Page Avenue Extension at the annual candidate forum hosted by the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) on Tuesday evening.
The MYAC is composed of juniors and seniors from local public and private high schools, chosen by their school officials to learn more about local government.
At the forum, each O’Fallon candidate gave a three-minute opening statement and closing statement. After that MYAC members questioned candidates, allowing a three-minute response time.
Hennessy attended the forum on Tuesday and Goewert called in to answer questions by speaker phone from a hotel room in San Diego, CA.
If elected as O’Fallon Mayor, what one primary goal do you hope to accomplish the next four years and how?
“We’ve outgrown city hall and need a new place for a justice center, which is in the works,” he said.
As part of the 2013 budget, the city council approved a study and design for a new justice center and municipal court facility.
In February, city staff sent out Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) to find qualified firms to conduct a needs assessment study and conceptual design, which is expected to begin in April.
O’Day park is a 57-acre property off of Hwy DD on other side of Interstate 64. The City of O’Fallon purchased a three-acre parcel to access the park in 2007.
During the 2013 budget process, the city council asked the parks department to look into opportunities for building a lodge in O’Day park
The O’Fallon parks department and SWT Design are working on proposal to submit in the next few weeks.
“To me, those two items, to get a justice center and O’Day Park, are very important to this city to continue to grow and prosper,” Hennessy said.
Goewert said his main goal would be economic development.
“As I patrol the city, I notice the increasing number of vacant lots, stores and lack of development,” Goewert said.
He said he would like to put O’Fallon back on the map as a place of commercial development, which would draw in new business and raise sales tax revenues instead of raising taxes for residents.
How do you plan to evolve youth not only in city opportunities, but in volunteer programs in the city?
Goewert, who spent seven years as a DARE officer in the community, said he’s had experience creating summer, reading and citizenship programs for local youth.
He told the MYAC members that they were about the same age as some of his children.
“We need to continue providing opportunities, but O’Fallon has a lot of opportunities,” he said. “I think the biggest thing would be to not stop our employees and staff from being creative, from thinking outside box, being progressive and communicate and listen to what the youth say their needs are.”
Hennessy, who founded the O’Fallon MYAC in 2001, said he started the program because he believes in what the city youth has to say.
He said he would like to encourage even more of the city’s young people to get involved.
Hennessy said it is also important to continue involving youth in the development of city projects, as they were with the planning of the new Westhoff Skate Park.
“We had the youth involved to see what they wanted in the skate park, and listened to their ideas and involved them in the creation,” he said. “So we will continue to do that with not only O’Day Park, but all of the things we bring forward.”
Due to economic recession, O’Fallon has witnessed several store closings—for example, Cold Stone Creamery and Krispy Kreme—how do you plan to make town more economically sound?
Hennessy said even though most of country is in a recession, the "Keep it in the O" campaign have helped the O’Fallon and the sales tax base continue to grow. He also provided the following statistics:
- In 2012, O’Fallon opened 200 businesses and added 1,000 jobs.
- Occupancy rate for commercial property in 2012 is 88.5 percent occupied; Office space is 97.4 percent occupied and industrial is 98 percent occupied.
- Sales tax up 3.4 percent from 2011.
“Granted, there are some open spaces and we are working with our economic development team to fill those spots,” Hennessy said. “We continue to grow our economics."
Goewert disagreed with Hennessy and said the recession is a reality in the vacant properties he sees in O’Fallon driving down the streets.
He said other cities nearby like Chesterfield, St. Peters and St. Charles pose a threat for business competition as they continue to grow.
“The biggest thing about economic development that I think our residents need to know and understand is that, is we need to be informed, we need to communicate—what happened to Menards? Why is Menards not coming into our city?”
A developer with a contract on a piece of property south of Highway N announced plans in March 2012 to build a Menards home improvement store.
Representatives from the store requested to withdraw the applications for the conditional use permit, site plan and rezoning for the project at the end of November 2012.
The Page Ave Extension project has some citizens concerned about the affect it will have on their commute. How do you see the project affecting daily life of residents?
Goewert said he thinks the extension will bring the city together and connect residents in the north and south side of town.
“It is going to have an impact. It’s going to be a lot more traffic and it’s going to be hopefully provide a lot more opportunities for community and economic development,” he said.
Hennessy said the construction will affect residents’ commute and daily living while being built, but in the long run will ease congestion on Highway K, Interstate 64 and Interstate 70 and attract more residents and commercial properties.
“It may be a hardship while they’re completing this task, but once they’ve completed, it will be a great thing for the City of O’Fallon.
Mayoral Candidates Closing Remarks
Hennessy ended by discussing his proudest accomplishment as mayor and one of his platforms for his 2009 campaign: the building of Brendan’s Playground.
The all-inclusive playground is specially designed with features that allow kids of all abilities to play together. After months of planning, fundraising and construction, opened in Westhoff Park in October 2011.
“It wasn’t about the kids who always come out to play, but rather the kids who have never been able to play before—and now they can,” he said. “To me that made all the fundraising and hard work worthwhile.”
Hennessy added if he is re-elected, parks will remain a top priority, along with improving infrastructure, attracting new businesses, a commitment to public safety and advocating for more patrols.
“I’ve served my community for 14 years as councilman and mayor and I have the proven experience, leadership and vision for the future of O’Fallon,” Hennessy said. “I use a common sense approach to solving complex issues in our city and to meet the needs of the community.”
Goewert said he believes he is the best choice for the mayor because he has lived here most of his life and made the largest investment as an adult by starting his own business and raising his family in O’Fallon.
“We know the challenge and need of other O’Fallon families,” Goewert said.
He sited his experience on on his Home Owner’s Association as providing him with the skills to make tough decisions for his neighbors.
“Perception is reality and as I’ve driven down the streets and have served in the community as an employee—we need leadership, we need vision and direction,” he said.
*Check back with O'Fallon Patch on Friday to see Parts II and III of O'Fallon's Candidate Forum.
Who has your vote for O’Fallon Mayor on April 3?