OP eyes new business support programs

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Seeking to develop new strategies for supporting business districts village-wide, the Oak Park village board on Monday considered creating several new programs, ranging from assistance in marketing efforts to holiday décor grants.

Loretta Daly, village business services manager, spent five weeks holding focus groups with business district members throughout Oak Park. Before returning to the board, she also met with organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Oak Park Development Corporation.

The discussion came after a budget meeting in November, when the board denied a funding request from The Avenue Business Association. At that time, trustees decided to look for ways to more equitably fund business districts, rather than just give money to those who ask.

Programs eyed by the board include: providing administrative assistants to business districts, for volunteer development and event planning; the village taking steps toward more proactively marketing Oak Park as a shopping destination; offering grants to assist businesses districts in placing holiday decorations; improving communication between business districts through a Business Association Council, and a Business Retention Council.

Other miscellaneous options included support of new signage, expansion of the village's employee parking program and cleaning sidewalks, among others.

It was unclear at the meeting if these programs would replace the village simply providing various districts with money.

However, Daly did raise the potential for helping more districts start their own Special Service Assessment (SSA) areas.

SSA's allow districts to be self-supported through a self-imposed additional property tax generated in a specific area.

The board, as a whole, reached consensus for Daly to begin development of the proposed programs. However, some individual trustees raised reservations.

"I think we're doing what every other community is doing. We need to develop a sense of place," said Trustee Gus Kostopulos, adding that insufficient marketing has not always been the problem.

"People visit some areas and find [Oak Park] has been overblown and they don't come back," he said. "A lot of our PR doesn't hold up."

Trustee Diana Carpenter also said she would rather "hold off" on the décor grants.


?#34;Katharine Grayson

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