Saturday, October 20, 2007

(Re) Discovering Downtown

“I’ve lived in Elgin a long time, and I never knew this was here.”

That could be Downtown Elgin’s new tagline. It may not be catchy, but it’s true.

I recently attended an event at the new Elgin Art Showcase in The Professional Building at 164 Division Street. As I eavesdropped on passing conversations I heard that same sentiment again and again.

People were awed by the grandiose lobby with its gothic arches and marble floors. They were impressed by the top floor gallery and performance space with its large picture windows overlooking a downtown at the crossroads of history and progress.

I myself am a lifelong Elginite and I have never stepped foot in The Professional Building. Never had a reason to. All the professionals in my life leased space elsewhere.

But someone had the brilliant idea to give people a new reason to visit the Professional Building – to experience local visual and performing arts in an affordable, accessible public space. And, at the same time, people can discover 20 or more professional businesses that they never knew were there.

Discovering new uses for old treasures is what revitalization is all about. The discovery usually starts something like “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if Elgin had . . .” Then a group of people say, “Yeah, it would be really great if Elgin had . . .” Then those people add a little elbow grease to their collective passion and make it happen. Then they invite the community to enjoy the final product of their discovery and say “Isn’t it so great that Elgin now has . . . ?” And, hopefully, the community agrees.

And that, my new friends, is what the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) is all about. People who not only have ideas for how to make downtown an exciting and thriving place to live, work and enjoy, but who will readily roll up their sleeves and help make it happen. People who see the downtown as a treasure hunt and who are excited to discover the potential that is hiding here. People who see vacant storefronts as windows of opportunity for business owners and customers alike.

When I read in the newspaper about the position for the executive director of the DNA, I discovered that I am one of these people. I’ve lived in Elgin my whole life, and I never knew that I had such a passion for this city.

Now I’m on a mission to rediscover downtown from a whole new perspective. And I want you to join me. Each week I’ll fill you in on what’s happening down here – the good and the “could be better.” I hope that you will take that step from discovering downtown on Saturday with me in the paper to discovering downtown at an event with me in person.

Maybe we can have t-shirts made with our new tagline.


Tonya Hudson is the executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin, a volunteer-driven coalition that supports the revitalization of downtown Elgin. She is a lifelong Elgin resident, a graduate of Judson University, a wife and a new mom. You can stop in and see Tonya at the DNA office on the first floor of the Tower Building at Chicago and Douglas or send her an email at

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