Winter has officially sprung around Chicago, and I’ll bet the landscape will be peppered with sledders, shovelers and snowman-constructors all weekend long.

But if you want to get out of your home and yard and do something this weekend, we have some ideas, even one that can benefit your Chicago real estate.

*Lake County Home Building & Remodeling Expo: There will be hundreds of exhibits, demonstrations, interactive activities, kids stuff, celebrity guests and more at the Lake County Fairgrounds, 1060 E. Peterson Rd., Grayslake on Friday, Jan. 13 from 4 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., where you can make your home improvement and remodeling dreams come true. Admission and parking are free.

*Chicago Boat, Sports & RV Show: This show offers specials on hundreds of boats, RVs and marine accessories, hands-on education and interactive activities like scuba diving and paddleboarding. The event is taking place at McCormick Place, North Building, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, on Friday, Jan. 13 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 15 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Monday, Jan. 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for ages 16 and up or get a four-pack for $30; kids 15 and under are free.

*Indoor Farmers Market: Missing outdoor farm stands this winter? Unity Temple, 875 Lake Street, Oak Park, is bringing the farmers market indoors on Saturday, Jan. 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market, which supports local farmers, will offer fresh produce, cheeses, baked goodies, soaps and more, and 10 percent of all proceeds go to the Farmers Crisis Fund.

*Second Saturdays for Families: Discover Chicago with the Radio Disney Road Crew on the second Saturday of each month — this month Jan. 14 — at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., where families can explore city landmarks, the Great Chicago Fire and Blues music through fun activities. The program is free with paid admission, which is $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors; kids 12 and younger are free. Performances begin at noon and 2 p.m. and are 40 minutes long. The museum is offering free admission on Monday, Jan. 16 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

*Free Kids Workshop: On Saturday, January 14, from 10 to 11 a.m., kids can build their own castle, complete with a working drawbridge, for free at all Lowe’s locations. There are only 50 kits at each store, so either register in advance or be there by 10 a.m. and hope for an available spot. Participants will also get an apron, a patch and a certificate of completion.

*Frames for Fosters Bowling Event: How about going bowling for animals who don’t have homes? This event benefits DuPage County Animal Care & Control’s Homeless Pets Foster Program. Tickets are $20 each or $75 for a family of four if purchased in advance or $25 a person at the door at Brunswick Zone, 558 E. North Avenue, Glendale Heights, on Sunday, Jan. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. The ticket price includes three hours of bowling, shoe rental, drinks, pizza, raffles and fun. For tickets, click the link or call (630) 407-2819.

*Glencoe Winter Carnival: This year’s festival at the Watts Center, 305 Randolph, will include a special tribute to the Park District’s 100th anniversary. There will be ice skating, sledding, races, contests, games, prizes, s’mores and more on Saturday, Jan. 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Have a great, safe weekend!

Another Chicago Bill is Going Up – heitman chicago

Yet another utility is sticking a hike on metro Chicago real estate owners and renters.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates gas and electric utility rates, this week approved a $60 million rate increase for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas. Peoples Gas was approved for a hike of almost $58 million, while North Shore Gas got a $1.9 million increase.

Gas burner lit up.It could have been worse: The companies originally requested a combined rate hike of $134 million.

The increase will be seen in your delivery costs, which is about a third of your monthly bill, and will probably equate to between $4-5 more per month.

Not a nice addition to area residents who use ComEd or Ameren for electricity: Those rates are going up more than $3 per month as well.

Plus, People’s Gas, which services more than 800,000 customers in the city of Chicago, had already increased its rates on its customers at the beginning of 2010 by almost $50 a year.

The ICC this week also approved a $32.2 million rate increase to downstate Ameren, which services more than 800,000 gas customers in central and southern Illinois, including Springfield. That company also got less than requested: It originally wanted a $111 million natural gas hike.

The Citizens Utility Board said it will appeal all the gas-rate increases. If unsuccessful, the rate hikes will take effect this month.

“Chicagoland gas customers are struggling in a tough economy,” said CUB Executive Director David Kolata. “The rate increases come at the worst possible time for consumers, hitting bills in the heart of the Chicago winter. We look forward to fighting this case on appeal”

Good to know someone is out there fighting for us.

Disputed Metro Chicago Real Estate Accepted – heitman chicago

A western suburb is moving forward on the construction of some controversial metro Chicago new homes.

Oak Park trustees this week unanimously approved the addition of a 20-story apartment building at the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue in the heart of the city’s downtown area.

The proposed Oak Park highrise.

The trustee’s 7-0 vote overrode the Oak Park plan commission’s 4-4 vote in November, which failed to approve the project.

Opponents of the structure, which will be the tallest building in Oak Park when completed, say the development would be an eyesore to the architecture of the historic downtown district and will cause traffic congestion.

Supporters say the highrise will create housing, businesses and jobs for Oak Park.

The $91 million project will include 270 apartment units, 25,000 square feet of commercial space on two floors and a 588-space parking garage.

The project has gone through many changes before approval. The original plan was for a highrise that included 85 condo units and a 140-room hotel. Seeing a bigger need for rentals in this rough metro Chicago real estate market turned the developer’s attention to apartments. That developer, Chicago-based Sertus Capital Partners, wants to begin construction in the fall of this year and hopes for completion by the summer of 2014.