JEFFERSON PARK — The new executive director of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce is a longtime Portage Park resident with experience in real estate who volunteered to lead the group amid continuing turmoil and turnover, officials said Wednesday.
Tricia Lombardo, who has lived in Portage Park since 1990, will replace executive director Amie Zander, who resigned in December after allegations of fraud torpedoed a plan to raise taxes in the Jefferson Park Business District designed to fund improvement efforts and fill long-empty storefronts.
Lombardo said she would work part time for the chamber, at least at first, and be paid for some administrative tasks while leading other initiatives as a volunteer.
In a Facebook post announcing her appointment, Lombardo said she would focus on "the goal of helping attract new businesses while continuing to serve existing businesses" in Jefferson Park. She said she did not have strong feelings "for or against" the proposal to establish a Special Service Area in Jefferson Park, which would have raised property taxes an average of $1,100 a year.
"I'm excited about this challenge," said Lombardo, who has two daughters, ages 20 and 22. "I want to make shopping local easier for all of us, revitalize our commercial strips and hopefully create some jobs in the process."
Lombardo worked most recently as the North American director of real estate operations for Motorola Solutions.
In an email interview with DNAinfo Chicago, Lombardo said she would focus on "refreshing" the chamber's social media accounts while preparing for the next meeting of the chamber board, which is set for Jan. 27, when she expects to discuss the organization's future with the board.
That meeting will be led by the chamber's third president in three months — Brian Nadig, the publisher of the Nadig Newspapers who also works as one of its reporters. The paper, which covers the Northwest Side as well as the nearby suburbs, recently celebrated its 75th birthday.
Nadig replaced George Karzas, who resigned from the chamber in December after Zander resigned.
Karzas, the owner of the Gale Street Inn, replaced former President Lionel Rabb, who stepped down in October after withdrawing his support for the Special Service Area, which still had the endorsement of the chamber board. Like Rabb, Karzas supported the proposal at first but changed his mind.
The proposal drew criticism from homeowners who live in the area who would have seen their taxes rise to benefit nearby businesses and those angry about the largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history approved in October by the Chicago City Council.
In December, Ald. John Arena (45th) dropped his support for the Special Service Area — which would have spruced up the commercial district along Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues — after allegations of fraud prompted a review of petition signatures in support of the measure. That review found the effort was 15 signatures short.
Karzas said he regretted his handling of the proposal to create a Jefferson Park Special Service Area.
"My flip-flopping on the SSA was an embarrassment that I now live with," Karzas said.
Karzas said he supported the new neighborhood group Jefferson Park Forward, which held its second meeting Tuesday.
With the exception of Jeff Fest — organized by the chamber each July — the chamber has been largely ineffective for years, Karzas said.
Rabb, who remains a member of the chamber's board, said Lombardo's experience in the community as a longtime volunteer and in real estate was "impressive."
"It is just another transition," Rabb said, adding that he expected the chamber to begin mapping vacancies in the business district centered around Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues to get data on exactly how many storefronts are vacant and what has been done to try to fill them.
"We want to stop the generalities," Rabb said.
Discussions will also get underway soon about the future of Jeff Fest, Rabb said.
Dues paid by member businesses are now the only source of income for the chamber, which was founded in 1932. It no longer receives approximately $30,000 in city funds that most chambers of commerce get to operate after paperwork errors by chamber leaders prompted city officials to end that subsidy.
In addition, the chamber is expected to have to repay a $25,000 loan it used to pay consultants to create the application for the special service area, officials said.
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