Downtown Oak Park street redos could be done by November

Village hires companies to start $5M work soon on Oak Park Ave., Marion St.

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

By the time you start your 2011 Christmas shopping in Oak Park, things could look quite a bit different.

Village hall is moving light-speed-ahead to spruce up the shopping areas on the 100 blocks of South Marion Street and South Oak Park Avenue. The village will dish out some $5 million to upgrade the streets with bricks, granite sidewalks and decorative street lamps.

The village board was set to approve a $400,000 contract Tuesday for a firm to do engineering work on the two street projects. And last week, village hall sent out feelers, asking for companies to manage the high-profile construction project.

If all goes as planned, work should start on the two streets by the end of April and wrap up by mid-November, said Village Engineer Jim Budrick.

Along with those two blocks, Oak Park is hoping to dress up three other intersections in Oak Park's main shopping district — near Lake Street's intersections with Forest, Marion and Oak Park. The village had applied for about $18.4 million in federal funds to allocate toward the effort, which was expected to total about $23 million, according to the village's application.

But the village got word recently that it wouldn't be receiving any of those dollars in the competitive process, according to Budrick.

Oak Park also approved a contract back in November for the Lakota Group consulting firm to put together designs for the two projects, as they did for a restreeting of the 100 block of North Marion. Officials hope they can create magic similar to that street, where, after the former pedestrian mall was opened to vehicle traffic, storefronts have filled up.

To go with Lakota's work, the village formed a committee that consists of business owners, government officials and construction professionals to help figure out what, exactly, Oak Park wants the new streets to look like. That group has been meeting most Wednesdays since December.

Mary Jo Schuler, co-owner of the Marion Street Cheese Market and Greenline Wheels on South Marion, is on the committee. She says the group has nearly finished with design elements for the new streets, which will be very similar to the block north of the tracks. They'll use brick streets, lights that are similar in appearance but more energy efficient, and similar sidewalks that are easier to clean. The group hopes to have a first draft of the street layout done by February.

The Park District of Oak Park plans to spruce up Mills Park near Marion and Scoville Park near Oak Park Avenue. Shuler says the committee hopes the two parties can work together to make the projects complement each other. She thinks the results will help spur more people to open businesses in Oak Park.

"I commend the leadership from village hall for making this a priority for our community," she said.

Nick Gambino, owner of Cucina Paradiso just west of Oak Park Avenue on North Boulevard, is also a member of the committee. He agrees that the street project will help meld together Oak Park's shopping district near Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. At the same time, he hopes the village does whatever it can to minimize the impact on businesses during construction.

"I'm sure the village wants to make it as painless as possible so nobody suffers," said Gambino, who also served as president of the Avenue Business Association for three years. "But realistically, I think there's always going to be some form of difficulty, and I think as business people we have to persevere and deal with a little inconvenience in the short term to have a better long term."

Village President David Pope, who has been a vocal proponent of the street projects, could not be reached for comment Monday.

On the other side, Trustee John Hedges has voiced skepticism about whether the roadway fix-up is worth the hefty price tag. He had hoped Oak Park would come up with some numbers to show what kind of return the village can expect on its investment.

"Maybe we could do something that would be more productive with that money to support the businesses, and I just don't know what that is right now," he said. "I don't have an alternative, but I'd like to look for those alternatives before we invest that kind of money."

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 9th, 2012 10:09 AM

cont. ... fast forward to July 2, 2012. TIF funds no longer exist and VOP was denied the $26M TIGER grant. Despite this new economic reality and their previous votes, why would Salzman, Tucker & Hedges vote to proceed with the Lake St. streetscaping project, by forming a committee comprised of the same advocates for streetscaping improvements at S. Marion and Oak Park Ave.? Rather than seizing an opportunity for leadership, they yielded to the status quo of DTOP interests.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: January 25th, 2011 12:29 AM

What exactly does this design plan hope to achieve? Is the idea to make DTOP quaint? Instead, it is being made fake, further from having the authentic architectural features that have attracted tourists. We see a brick street here & there in OP as if some streets are preferable to others, an uneven plan. Alongside our State Capitol, a couple streets were made brick at tremendous expense, it looks silly and irrelevant. Elected officials in IL need to better stewards of our tax money!

john j walsh from wooddale  

Posted: January 24th, 2011 6:17 PM

been retired from op 15 years the lunatics are still there making dumb decisions

OP Resident  

Posted: January 24th, 2011 1:04 AM

Fix my alley. Fix my street. If there's $5 mil available for repairing or resurfacing; spend that money in the neighborhoods. Village Engineer Jim Budrick can provide our trustees with a long list of streets,alleys,walks and curbs throughout the Village that are in much worse shape than Marion Street. The trustees have delayed plans and cut back on funding for neighborhood projects. Of course, if the way this deal works is that the $5 mil can only be spent Downtown. We understand. Hurray TIFs!

David Barsotti  

Posted: January 23rd, 2011 1:32 PM

The downtown TIF is bankrupt. In fact, the TIF is $21,340,000 in the red. Whose taxes are going to be raised to pay for this "improvement?"

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 2:58 PM

David Pope's $26M School Books for Street Bricks plan is hidden in plain sight on OP's special meeting agenda for Jan. 24 at Pope's Downtown Disneyification project is disguised as 'infrastructure' on p.7. The $26M is the projected property taxes to be diverted into GDTOP TIF coffers until expiration in 2018. While D97 schemes to increase property taxes with an April referendum, Pope's $26M plan will divert $8.3M from D97 to pay for more downtown street bricks.

adele from OP  

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 2:01 PM

Good example of how disconnected village is from reality - squeezing tax payers for more w/out 2nd thought. I LOVE Marion; it's beautiful. But this, in this economy, w/ values down/taxes up, confirms there is no thought of tax payer cost to pave streets w/gold. This $ should go to D97 so they can keep their amenities rather than us pay thru referendum. Plz-cut fat, more cops on streets, sober thinking - now is the time for fiscal restraint.

Scott Mc from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 6:36 PM

How about letting top-tier businesses set up shop on Lake Street instead of blowing millions of our tax dollars manufacturing fake charm? DTOP has enough charisma, and it doesn't need to veneered to perpetuate the dream that hoards of shoppers are going to maul struggling mom and pop shops. We don't need fancy street lights, we need to rebuild our tax base.


Posted: January 21st, 2011 2:58 PM

Close DOWN the TIF - the 5 million s/b returned to the Schools. By holding onto the TIF - and spending it on a Street - our TAXs will go up by the 1.6 Million or so D97 could be getting.

Rich Schurr from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 2:53 PM

I have lived in Oak Park for over 18 years and I have never seen how a single development effort has resulted in anything but my taxes going up out of proportion to other communities. Now we can't pay for our schools. Who asked for a $5 million street other than the property owners on that street? How do the rest of us benefit? That has never been proven.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 1:48 PM

The village board actually agreed to invest $5M on a beautification project without benefit of; a) policy evaluation criteria relative to the current DTOP TIF Redevelopment Plan or DTOP Master Plan, b) evaluation of possible alternatives (including returning $5M as TIF surplus), and c) selection via cost benefit analysis. The village's claim that Marion St. improvements resulted in over $3M in private investment is meaningless, unless they post an objective report that substantiates their claim.


Posted: January 21st, 2011 9:37 AM

TIF Return on Investment. Now here is someone from the Village speaking with a purpose. the WJ said the following about Tr. Hedges. He had hoped Oak Park would come up with some numbers to show what kind of RETURN the village can expect on its investment.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 9:11 AM

Policy represents our values, and is based on the prioritization and allocation of finite revenue. During a recession, what policy best reflects our values in the allocation of $5M in TIF revenue? In this case, the village had the option of declaring the $5M as TIF surplus and returning it to taxing agencies, including $1.6M to D97, $1.5M to D200, $0.7M to the village itself for public services. Instead, the village board decided downtown brick streets best reflected our values. Do you agree?

Rich Schurr from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 6:24 AM

Enuf is Enuf beat me to it. This town needs to seriously think about our priorities. We are seriously considering major cuts in our schools while at the same time we have $5 million to improve a single street? Wow, how twisted is that? This, on top of the Illinois income tax hike is another insult to taxpayers and a prime example of out of control government spending. Wake up people!

Tad Wefek from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 9:27 PM

Is it just me or is Harlem between the Ike and Lake Street the ugliest street in Northern Illinois? Seriously, it looks like the main drag through East Gary. Why not clean up your entrance to the downtown for outside visitors? If tourism is so vital to the future of downtown retail, why are we welcoming patrons with such an awful entryway?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 7:11 PM

The poor 59.3% rating (2008) for local streets better represents village neglect than Mr. Johnson's 71.8% rating, which includes major/arterial streets for which the feds pay 70% of repair costs. Why is the 100 S. Oak Park block being torn up for bricks when currently rated in 'very good' (80-90) condition, while all local streets, on average, have a 'poor' rating (40-60)? Why are residential street property owners required to pay 50% of brick street costs, while downtown property owners pay 0%?

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 4:58 PM

The idea that Marion St. improvements resulted in $3 million of private investment is questionable. Some of this investment isn't on Marion. Just cleaning up the results of years of negligence on the mall might have had the same results. At least one new business has closed. The DTOP plan included street improvements. It also included over $300 million in new private investment (mostly ugly high-rises). I guess $3 million and $300 million are close enough for governmernt work.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 4:35 PM

Regarding the point about street ratings: The combined score for local and arterial streets is 71.8 (scale is 0-100). In 2010, 19.6 lane miles of local improvements were made at a total cost of $3.8M (this includes the relatively inexpensive process of crack filling). Water/Sewer line replacement work is required; streetscape upgrades are part of the Downtown Master Plan. Marion St. improvements sparked over $3M in private investment.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:28 PM

Kudos to Trustee Hedges for paying attention. A quick survey of the 100 S. Marion block reveals zero vacancies, with major building renovation and new construction already completed at all potential sites, such as Poor Phil's Bar & Grill and the Carleton Hotel. What is the projected return-on-investment for local taxpayers on $5M project relative to other investments, including returning the $5M TIF surplus? Is anyone on the village board besides Mr. Hedges paying attention? Whose idea was this?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 1:06 PM

While the village is spending $5M on more downtown street bricks, the remaining streets in OP continue to be neglected. According to a 5-year assessment completed for the village in 2008, streets in OP are getting an "F." On average, the 100 miles of local streets in Oak Park dropped below 60 out of 100 on a grading scale. Amid budget cuts, Oak Park has cutback on street and alley improvements for the past two summers, increasingly relying on limited CDBG funds that should fund social services.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 12:54 PM

D97 is calling for a referendum in April, due to an ongoing budget crisis, primarily caused from the diversion of property tax revenue to village TIFs. D200 is suing the village for insufficient TIF fund allocation, as per their agreement. The village has significantly cut programs and staff due to their own ongoing budget crisis. But somehow the village found $5 million of TIF revenue to pave the downtown streets with bricks. Let's call it David Pope's School Books for Street Bricks Project.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 2:20 AM

It's very quick and efficient for the Village to be meeting privately with a quietly selected group of "business owners, government officials, and construction professionals" to decide when and how to spend $5 million of all our tax money. I'm pretty sure nobody asked Oak Park taxpayers if they want to pay higher property taxes to get streetscaping instead of the massive development promised when the DTOP TIF was renewed. Ending the TIF now might make the District 97 referendum unnecessary.

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