Fancy streets are great, but wait there's more

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

It has been said, by me it turns out, that if the cash-impaired village of Oak Park had one do-over in the past several years it would be to save the million-plus it spent gussying up Chicago Avenue from Ridgeland to Austin to no particular effect.

Turns out I have a supporter. And it is a village trustee.

Last week the village board was soaking in the moonshine of streetscaping again. They can't take their eyes off what they made of that half-block of Marion Street from the el tracks to Lake Street. You can make something pretty nice with enough money. Now, the staff and board want to continue the elegant design this way and that throughout the downtown TIF district. The total cost, we reported a few months back along with the news that the village was angling for major federal money, was something over $20 million. That buys a lot of slate sidewalks.

The immediate focus though might be on South Marion Street, the two-block stretch on the far side of the el and home to several of the town's more appealing restaurants. We've got the not-to-be-missed rendering of the recast Marion Street on page 11.

Along comes Trustee Jon Hale, though, with a caution. Maybe fancy streetscaping is only part of the economic development puzzle, he told the board last week and me in an interview Monday afternoon.

"This isn't black and white. It's not that all streetscaping is bad," he said. It's just that Oak Park "needs to do a lot" on economic development, said Hale, a first-termer who recently announced he would be a one-termer owing to family and work considerations.

Hale talked about having read an article a few years ago about how local governments can fuel economic development. The point of the article, he said, "is that it is what's in the stores that counts."

So Hale wants to see the village concentrate on investing in recruiting new stores, programs for buildouts, ways to speed entrepreneurs through the village's still clunky apparatus for opening a business.

"We need to get our act together on business recruitment. We have to do better on getting new businesses open. The village has no economic development person (the post was cut in layoffs over the past two years)," said Hale.

He expressed doubts about the ability of the Oak Park Development Corporation to "provide that kind of leadership." At the same time he echoes the frequent party line that Oak Park, and other inner ring, transit-oriented suburbs "should be well positioned for the new normal" once the economy does turn upward.

Hale though is critical of the cacophony of voices used to market the village to potential new residents, businesses and tourists. "We should pull together everyone who is responsible for marketing Oak Park, put all their money through one agency so we can market Oak Park with one voice."

And, yes, he said something rude about the "silly tourism logo."

Going back to Chicago and Ridgeland, Hale said what I've said. The streetscaping there "hasn't spurred any economic development that I've seen." As someone who tries actively to shop at Chicago and Austin — a nice hardware store, the Jamaican jerk chicken place, car rentals — I agree.

This is no screed against streetscaping. A nicely turned bench is a thing to behold. But it can't be the only arrow in the quiver and right now it feels like it is.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

10 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

David Ristau from Lahaina and Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 2:45 PM

Hey Dan,While intially I thought the streescaping in front of my Chicago Avenue office was going to be a waste of money, it turns out after a few years that the changes have had some positive results: cars can't do end-arounds at the corners as they used to. This has reduced accidents and damage to parked cars. Streets are clean, parking is there for the daytime and we don't look like Chicago's east of Austin demise.Now, can we get some signs taken down??????

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 12:06 PM

JACOB I cannot say I know Jon Hale well or have enough knowledge about his performance on the board to pass judgment. I feel he had more ability to see the village through a marketing lens than others on the board and village staff. Ray Johnson also has a strong marketing lens. As far as the logo itself, I had strong opinion one way or another. I did think it was well outside OP traditional designs. There are pluses to that. The Oak Park tree logo is aged and dull. The lack of design consistency is a marketing issue. How does OP want to present itself to the public?Bottom line, I think OP needs a major upgrade in its marketing and planning capabilities.

Jacob from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 10:28 AM

Of course marketing or branding for that matter isn't designing a logo, which is why he shows his ignorance when he talks about marketing Oak Park with one voice. How involved has he actually been in those processes to know that it may have been tried and not supported buy him? You're giving him too much credit without knowing at all his previous lack of involvement in any of those processes.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 12:05 AM

If Mr. Hale know nothing about Marketing, we are in trouble. He was one of the board members who had a clue on the subject. Marketing is not designing a logo. That is Promotion.Marketing is identifying customers%u2019 needs and satisfying them. That includes developing new products and services, using robust data and info, and grasping risk. Marketing guided WJ shift to blogs. It guides the Planeks opportunity ID. OP uses project management instead of marketing, it's a poor substitute.

Jacob from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2010 9:32 PM

Mr. Hale has no idea what marketing is. He supported the "silly tourism logo" yet waits until the director leaves town to make negative comments; ala Gary Schwab.Really Jon, you're not as smart as you think you are. I bet you haven't still set foot in the new Visitors Center have you?

Lori Malinski  

Posted: October 18th, 2010 12:57 PM

Ray - on behalf of NABA, thank you very much for your quick response to streetscape concerns!

Bill Planek/Bob Planek from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2010 4:24 PM

As business owners we would like to respond to Dan Haley's October 13th article re: Fancy streets are great... The article states that money spent on the streetscaping of the Chicago Avenue, Ridgeland to Austin, business corridor hasn't spurred any economic development. We simply would like to point out some of the new businesses in the neighborhood and maintain that the money spent will continue to encourage some of the long-term businesses (Enterprise Rent %u2013 A %u2013Car, Domino%u2019s Pizza, Ace Hardware, 7-Eleven, to name a few) to stay committed to the neighborhood.The corporate office of OakParkApartments.com is at 41 W. Chicago Avenue and is a stable part of the Chicago Avenue corridor for many years. Additionally housed in this building is the Rare Bird Preserves, a new start up business that makes wonderful jams and jellies. Recently, OakParkApartments.com completed a significant improvement in the previously abandoned storefront at 18 Chicago Avenue, creating The ARC, a multi-purpose sports training facility and home to organizations such as Derby Lite, Oak Park Youth Baseball, Legacy Baseball, Strikers soccer plus many more. In addition to the above new businesses, Anita Alvarez, Cook County State%u2019s Attorney, opened the Community Justice Center at 4 W. Chicago Avenue on July 7th of this year. Although these may not be "big-box" retailers they are very vital small businesses owned and operated by Oak Parkers committed to the diversity and economic prosperity of this often ignored but high-profile gateway to our community. Sincerely,Bill PlanekBob PlanekOwners/OperatorsOakParkApartments.com

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 14th, 2010 2:57 PM

Lori -- from Public Works:I sent your email to Jim Budrick to ask about the North Ave. concerns from the Wednesday Journal and he replied that the contractor has been working on the lights all week. Chicago Forestry crews have cleaned up all the landscaping and have a little more to do on the trees. They have been working with OP Forestry on this and should be wrapping it all up in the next two weeks.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 14th, 2010 2:17 PM

Hi Lori --- in fact, I encouraged us to re-engage with Chicago to complete the North Ave. streetscape during the budget discussion this past Monday.As for the problems with the streetscape completed, this needs to get before the Public Works department of Oak Park and Chicago and if there are problems they need to be fixed. Normally, for instance, trees are guarantted for up to 1 year after planting. I'm happy to forward your concerns.

Lori Malinski  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 9:22 AM

How about finishing the streetscape on North Avenue, and maybe fixing the half that's "finished?" Trees are dead, lights not working, half the corridor finished, the other half looks very very sad.

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