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Taking a step up to look at big picture
By Dave Heun | Daily Herald Correspondent

One of the projects Chris Aiston is working on for Kane County is what to with the 26-acre site of the county jail and sheriff's office after they move to new facilities on Route 38.


Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/27/2008 12:21 AM

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If Chris Aiston visits a Geneva City Council meeting these days, he has a different point of view. Literally.

"I'm the applicant now," said Aiston, who has been the Kane County economic development director since October, after 11 years in that role for the city of Geneva.

"It is an interesting dynamic because now I'm coming to the city of Geneva advocating development, and I've always been part of that team, but I'm also the 'other guy' now, advocating on behalf of the private development industry."

After working on major Geneva projects such as Dodson Place along Third Street, the riverfront tax increment financing districts for the Herrington Inn and new senior housing projects, and the birth of the Geneva Commons, Aiston now focuses on the more "global" realm of the entire county.

"Economic development for the county is more regional, whereas municipal economic development tends to be more site-specific," Aiston said. "The county is a bigger canvas, with 540 square miles, as compared to Geneva's 10 square miles.

"With the county it is about fostering a good climate for economic development by working on tollway access, bridges, good transportation systems, good roads and a good work force," said Aiston, who is on the county payroll for the second time in his career, having worked as a Kane County planner from 1985 to 1990 before taking a similar job in DeKalb County. He left DeKalb County after six years to work for the city of Geneva.

"You are dealing with multi-jurisdictions that affect regional areas that can eventually become shopping areas, offices and other regional development," Aiston added.

When county Development Director Phil Bus and Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay created Aiston's position, they stressed the need for the county to have a more pro-active stance in development issues -- to ensure quality development and that potential developers were not overlooking Kane County.

"There is a lot to deal with in the overall regulatory arena and you are always asking how can Kane County be competitive or at least on an even playing field with others," Aiston said.

"We want to make sure that the cost of doing business in Kane County vs. DuPage, Will and Lake, will be such that Kane County is attractive to developers."

There will always be cooperative efforts between counties and an economic development director has to nurture those relationships, Aiston said.

"There are many agencies and entities to work with and we basically are trying to make the Midwest, in general, appealing nationally and globally."

Aiston said the development of the DuPage Technical Park and growing DuPage Airport are good examples of developments that "bleed into Kane County, and the effect of those economic engines transcends county lines."

One major project facing Aiston is the redevelopment of the county jail and sheriff's office site along Fabyan Parkway, once the new jail on Peck Road opens.

"There will be many city and forest preserve groups involved and it will take some work to get the proper zoning for a mixed-use, land-use plan," Aiston said about the property, which some city officials have mentioned as a possible site for a future hotel/conference center.

Another project Aiston will tackle is the county clerk building on Randall Road at the former Montgomery Ward site in St. Charles. If the county eventually buys the entire 9-acre site, he said, it would have some leasing options to consider.

"It's not written in stone, but a long-range plan is to develop that site and certainly lease any unoccupied portion," Aiston said.

As he moves forward in his new role, Aiston is hoping his past experience at the county and in Geneva will pay dividends, particularly as he approaches city officials about the development of the jail site.

"Those development committee meetings can sometimes be adversarial," Aiston said.

Aiston laughs when he considers what it is going to be like if he is on the receiving end of some of that rhetoric.

"When I go to them now at the city, I have to hope I didn't burn any bridges," he said. "I don't want them to throw me out on the curb."