Oak Park allots $8M to entice developers

Village eyes different ways to attract businesses in 2011 and beyond

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

The Village of Oak Park has at least $8 million in its pocket that it can use to lure developers to come here. Officials need to start deciding in the coming weeks where those dollars could be used — but they pointed this week to the need for a bowling alley, pubs and a big-box retailer in Oak Park.

Village trustees held a second discussion on Monday as officials look for ways that village hall can guide the future of economic development in the community. Village government owns several pieces of prominently located land, and has a pot of money waiting to be used for bolstering business here.

"You can meet a lot of your daily needs right here in Oak Park, and we certainly want to hold onto that very foundation," said Village Manager Tom Barwin. "But we want to build from there."

Village officials are focusing their efforts on Madison Street and downtown Oak Park. Both of those areas have commercial space available, and the village has two tax increment financing districts in those districts. (TIF is a fund created by freezing property taxes in a specified geographic district at a certain level. Increases in future tax revenues above that amount are funneled into the TIF fund for use in development and infrastructure projects designed to aid economic development.)

The Madison and Downtown Oak Park TIFs expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively, and the village wants to start allocating those dollars before the funds dry up. About $32 million should be available for use before the expiration dates, according to Barwin.

He's recommending that about $8 million (or 25 percent) go toward enticing developers to build here. The largest portion (about $22.4 million or 70 percent) would be used for infrastructure projects, such as building public parking garages or new streets. The smallest bit, about $1.6 million, could be made available as grants for building owners to spruce up their properties, Barwin said.

But some trustees expressed worry that Oak Park was throwing too much money toward fixing up roads, and not enough for attracting developers and new businesses. Trustee Jon Hale said allocating just 25 percent to incentives is "extremely problematic."

"Streetscape is not a very clear-cut way to increase the property tax base," Hale said. "That's what TIF dollars are supposed to be spent for."

Oak Park is investing about $5 million in TIF dollars to spruce up the 100 blocks of South Marion and South Oak Park Avenue this year. Officials hope that the brick streets and bluestone sidewalks will spur building owners and developers to invest in private properties.

Barwin and Village President David Pope pointed out that Oak Park owns about $14.5 million worth of property on Madison and in the village's downtown district. Those parcels could be used to further entice developers, possibly by discounting the land.

Investing dollars in streets and sidewalks would benefit all property owners, rather than just one, Pope added.

"There is benefit from not just putting those dollars in one person's pocket, but instead actually making those investments in ways that benefit all of the property owners, the businesses, the future businesses and the community," Pope said.

Village hall and the Oak Park Development Corp. analyzed the village's current business market and found several areas that could be added or expanded. Officials say there's a need for more medical facilities, higher education institutions, a bowling alley, pubs and big-box stores. Oak Park hopes to target those businesses in the next two years, possibly using TIF dollars as an incentive.

Barwin also mentioned the idea of starting several "economic development funds" of $500,000, which could be used in areas that don't have TIFs — such as Harrison Street, Chicago and Harlem, and Oak Park Avenue just north of the expressway.

Trustees held off on having an extended conversation about village staff's recommendations. They hope to continue the chat sometime in February.

Reader Comments

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J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 2nd, 2011 7:28 PM

@Dawson - That's not a bad idea. I do know that the corners, and the sidewalks at the schools could be shoveled and salted a lot better... as could the crosswalks. Slipping on ice at recess is no fun, nor is falling in the street. Nice clean path to schools and trains lol... I'm all for it!

Scott Dawson from Oak Park  

Posted: February 2nd, 2011 5:51 PM

After the bad job of plowing streets after this snow storm, VOP should use the $8 million to learn how to plow streets and get snow out of the way. In 12 hours they haven't hit all of Clinton yet.

Jon Donohue  

Posted: January 30th, 2011 10:21 PM

I would love to see a Walmart or Sams Club in Oak Park. Maybe they can put it in the empty retail space at Whiteco or the development at Forest and Lake.

OP Resident  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 1:11 PM

David Pope swings and misses. There are number of people who post comments on this forum using the pseudonym "OP Resident". I am not involved in helping any local campaign. Just a resident & taxpayer concerned about mismanagement & a lack of accountability at Village Hall. If you can name names; do so. But, please don't lecture us about transparency. Your record on the subject is pretty dismal. Or do you plan to permit public inspection of the TIF books & adhere to the Open Meetings principles?

OP Resident  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 12:45 PM

@Ken You may be okay with what occurred; others would disagree. After all, it's all about what someone does with your personal information. Village Hall did not have internet access at the time of this incident. I would be concerned anytime a public offical is on your tail for expressing an opinion. Nothing to hide; nothing to worry about. But,it is still troublesome. I certainly hope you don't approve of any public official conducting their own investigation without just cause.


Posted: January 28th, 2011 12:17 PM

@ OP Resident: Scary business? Any fifth grader with Internet access can find someone's address and phone number.

OP Resident  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 10:51 AM

Using a pseudonym to post on a comment on this forum provides protection from retaliation by Village officials. Several years ago, the Wednesday Journal printed a letter from Eli Spencer that was critical of the Law Department. Our Village Attorney personally conducted a search of the Village Clerk's records to obtain info on Spencer's home address and phone number. Scary business! David Pope and the Wednesday Journal can contact Heise and Sokol to confirm that this incident did occur.

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 9:47 AM

Come out, come out whoever you are!!! How about we agree to only post if we are willing to include our own first and last names. In turn, everyone can assess for themselves the underlying motivations of those posting some of the profoundly uninformed screeds that too often appear in these pages. For example, a single person currently posts under his own name and under the psudonyms "OP Resident", and "Enuf is Enuf". Btw, he's also helping run a local campaign. Transparency anyone? Hmmmmmmmm?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 9:27 AM

Some clarification to Trustee Johnson's assertion is needed. While some board members may have been reviewing the proposed Unified Streetscape Plan for the first time, its development was initiated a long time ago by David Pope, who then had Tom Barwin direct his staff to work out the justification. Also, while Pope intends to drain every last TIF dollar on his obsession w/ brick streets, the board needs to realize the DTOP TIF is in poor fiscal health, contrary to claims by Pope and Barwin.


Posted: January 28th, 2011 5:57 AM

Mr. Johnson, my vote for the TIF funds is that the money goes to D97, where the money would be going had the TIF not been extended. Adding streetscape to a well leased property and giving incentives to the board's pet tenants is irresponsible. Remember the national embarrassment when Lane Bryant wanted to come to town? The best thing the Village can do is to make it easier and cheaper to conduct business in Oak Park and stop micromanaging.

OP Resident  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 1:53 AM

Trustee Johnson sees Oak Park as some sort of TIF paradise. Many residents are concerned that the concept has resulted in mismanagement and an abuse of power. How about putting the matter to a vote before creating more TIFs in Oak Park? The people should be heard on whether we want to continue to be a honey pot for consultants and wealthy developers. Of course, Johnson would never agree to anything binding but perhaps he'd be willing to find out if Oak Park residents want TIF Mania to stop.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 3:20 PM

This headline is quite a bit ahead of our discussion. The board did not make any final decisions on TIF allocations, but rather received a recommendation from staff which will be taken up in more detail at a future meeting (the last sentence in this article is a better reflection of the meeting dynamic and next steps).

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 10:37 AM

There is no requirement to spend TIF funds. Rather, the village board is required to exercise due diligence in evaluating all viable options, including TIF decommissioning prior to their expiration, which returns TIF funds to the originating taxing agencies. Since D97 is issuing an April referendum for increased property taxes, and 32% of TIF funds represents D97 allotment, how has the village board evaluated the TIF decommissioning option relative to their spending option of the remaining $32M?

Why not here? from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 5:10 PM

This just in from Crains: "Meijer Inc. is continuing its grocery expansion in the close-in suburbs with plans for a store in Berwyn." We couldn't have found 90K sq ft on Madison? Is Harlem/Cermak really better than OP & Madison?? Did anyone at VOP even bother to call Meijer? Read more: http://www.chicagorealestatedaily.com/article/20110126/CRED03/110129882/meijer-plans-berwyn-store#ixzz1CBZKReYX

OP Resident  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:21 PM

@ Howard - You remind of that song from "The Wiz", "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News!". Gary S. has been an advocate for accountability and transparency in Village government. That's what we were promised by David Pope and these trustees. Do you think they've honored that pledge by refusing a public inspection of the TIF books and violating the Open Meetings Act? The VMA stranglehold on Village government has not resulted in improved services. Look at the condition of our streets and alleys.

Steve from OP from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 11:16 AM

District 97 should look to get rid of its building on Home Ave for the administrators. Lay off half of the administrative staff and take up offices in one of the existing schools. This is just 1 example of how in OP we pay for all the extras that our peer communities in Cook county don't do themselves. Also the administrators do add anything to the classroom. It is just pure bloat and corruption that has cause our tax rate to be so out of whack with the rest of Cook County.

Steve from OP from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 11:11 AM

I am a life long democrat, but the taxes in OP are out of control and out of line with other communities in cook county. The village should not be playing and paying developers. It just sounds like corruption to me. For all the money we spend in taxes, our schools don't even rank in the top 10 in cook county let alone the state. Our tax rate is higher than La Grange, Riverside, the north shore communities and others in cook and yet are schools are much worse.


Posted: January 26th, 2011 10:52 AM

To Gary S, I would like for you to write a One View for this paper. In it, explain the reasons you've stayed in Oak Park for 40 years. The catch? You can't be negative in it. No VMA this or that, a serious piece about why you're still here? You and your friends all start sentences with "I've lived here X amount of years" then go on to gripe and moan about, well everything. Write one piece, just one about why on God's green earth you still choose to live in a place that makes you miserable.


Posted: January 26th, 2011 10:14 AM

They need to bring successful stores to Oak Park that are unique enough to draw even people from neighboring towns in. Then people will pay for usage of our parking garages and obviously shop around other stores and eat etc. Examples: Hobby Lobby, Container Store, H&M etc. @OP mom: A cool Irish pub would be nice as well.

OP Resident  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 10:13 AM

Keep an eye on this one. David Pope is talking about discounting the price on $14 million worth of property owned by the Village. That means the taxpayers will have to take a loss so a developer can make a profit.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 8:08 AM

Increasing development in hopes of increasing tax revenues is fine, but there is no guarantee that the personal property and personal income tax burdens on Oak Parkers will lessen as a result. The proposed new levy is now a permanent levy, So is the income tax increase, despite disclaimers from Quinn and the Democrats. Additional funds are unlikely to improve the quality of Dist. 97 schools. Only major reform will do that, and reform is not on the table. We will be paying more for nothing.


Posted: January 26th, 2011 6:39 AM

This is GREAT. At least they are FINALLY talking about Development opportunities in the Open. TIF is for Economic Development, in hopes of creating a Bigger tax base - therefore to not put such a large burden on Us for Schools and such. @Gary is right, record so far has not been great - so lets hold them more accountable, and suggest some ideas for the Right Development that grows the Tax Base and benefits us.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: January 25th, 2011 11:42 PM

Remember that the Village "has" this money for such nonsense only because it chooses to ignore legal commitments made to other taxing bodies when the DTOP TIF was extended. This isn't Village Hall's money; it's ours. As we all pay higher taxes in the future, let us remember that a leading cause is a few people still wanting to play developer, even in the face of abysmal results to date.

OP Mom  

Posted: January 25th, 2011 11:16 PM

I'd love to see more pubs!

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