Sometime before the end of the month, a demolition contractor will appear at the Hoppe Building located on Harlem Avenue, just north of the Marshall Field Building, which houses the Border's Bookstore. This building is a 13-unit residential building built in the early 1920s, and subsequently converted to condominiums. It was purchased by the village a year ago for $1.9 million dollars with our local tax dollars (Downtown Oak Park TIF money), to be donated (that's right, at no cost) to Whiteco for its 200-unit apartment project. Its purchase and demolition by the village is not part of the existing DTOP Redevelopment Plan, and the public never had an opportunity for input into this expenditure of TIF dollars as required by state law.
Our Citizens' Historic Preservation Commission, however, did designate this building as "contributing" to the downtown historic character when they included it in their DTOP Architectural Survey. The purpose of the survey was to be a guide for the village in planning downtown development. This Survey was available for purchase at Village Hall for $7.75 until citizens complained that a listed building was going to be demolished by the village without input from the public.
The village immediately rescinded the survey and removed it from the library shelves with the explanation that they never authorized the survey. The truth is that about 20 other buildings listed in the survey are now also slated for demolition under the new Crandall Arambula Master Plan and that is the real reason the survey was yanked.
These demolitions will significantly alter the character of our downtown and will likely affect the chance of ever having this area designated as a historic district. While municipalities around the country and Chicago (Hinsdale, La Grange, Lake Forest and others) have recognized the value of their historic downtowns, both in terms of heritage and quality of life, Oak Park is taking the opposite approach and is anxious to begin a string of demolitions that most residents are not even aware of.
If you have concerns about tax dollars being diverted from the schools and parks to demolish large parts of our history and turn the vacant land over to outside developers to bring in national retailers, not local business, call your trustees to object.
Mark your calendars to attend the Feb. 7 public hearing where you will have an opportunity to object before the plan is adopted by the village.