GIBSON CITY – Gibson City had many successes in 2015, including adding a new festival to its downtown and new playground equipment at North Park, and 2016 promises to be another good year for the town.
According to Mayor Dan Dickey, three things are key for continued success—economic development, improving the town’s infrastructure and operating with a balanced budget.
“I do not believe Gibson City is a bedroom town,” Dickey said of his belief that the town needs slow and steady growth to remain a thriving community.
“I would like to see more of our kids stay,” he added. “A lot of young people move away, because there aren’t decent jobs. I have three boys, and they are all gone. We have decent jobs, but we need more. It’s important to keep our families together.”
Growing the number of businesses downtown is one of the most important ways to increase economic development, Dickey said.
“We have more vacancies than we did a year ago,” he said, noting that while a few new businesses, including Fabulous Finds, opened in downtown in 2015, a few others have either closed or moved to different parts of town.
One new business that will open downtown in 2016 is Burgers and Beer, which is expected to employ about 20 people when it opens.
Dickey is hoping downtown revitalization will attract others.
In a council meeting in November 2014, Sean Widener of Clark Deitz, who helped facilitate and guide Gibson City’s downtown revitalization committee, said a statistic from the Illinois Municipal Review supports city investment into improving downtown.
“Industry statistics show that beautification alone can increase sales between 15 and 35 percent,” Widener said.
“If we could just increase it 15 percent, it’s a good investment,” Dickey said.
Last summer, the Gibson City Council voted against bidding the replacement of the Ameren-owned lights on Sangamon Avenue from Seventh Street to the railroad tracks.
However, two of the “no” votes came from aldermen who favored the project but wanted to wait until 2016 to bid it. Dickey said he expects the council to reconsider the measure at its Jan. 25 meeting.
He said future plans for downtown include adding Wi-Fi and more outdoor seating.
In 2015, there was also development outside of downtown. The Villas of Holly Brook assisted living facility officially opened in June.
“We went after it, and we got it,” Dickey said. “There was a lot of behind the scenes work. I enjoyed it.”
Next on the list of businesses to attract is a hotel.
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“I’d like to see something done there,” Dickey said, adding there are “positive things happening” related to that. “It all comes back to we need to grow, and a hotel would bring more growth."
Dickey said it’s also important the town continues to improve its infrastructure.
“If we don’t have a good infrastructure we are not going to grow,” he said.
City workers removed the median from Lott Boulevard in 2015, and the repaving and curb and gutter work will be bid in January.
The city will also complete the next phase of its stormwater and wastewater separation project in 2016.
Future infrastructure projects will include adding a new water tower.
“We’re doing a lot of projects even though the economy isn’t the best,” Dickey said.
Despite the state’s deficit spending, Dickey said the city is committed to spending only what it brings in.
“Everything we are doing we have the money for,” he said. “That’s been our philosophy—save and pay cash for it."
While the state’s financial situation isn’t a big concern for the city at this point, it could be in the future.
“I think we are in much better shape than many communities to weather the storm,” Dickey said.
Because of its savings, the city has also been able to spend money on recreation improvements.
“We will be opening our fishing pond Memorial Day weekend,” Dickey said. “It’s all about quality of life.”
And, he’s hoping someday the city’s pool will get an upgrade.
“I’m excited about the future,” he said. “We just need to keep doing what we are doing. It’s working.”