Downtown consensus and moving forward


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It isn't often that "consensus" and "development" get used in the same sentence in Oak Park, but something resembling it seems to be emerging from discussions about the downtown "superblock." The Downtown Sub-Area Plan Steering Committee may have an awful name, but the members are doing a fair job of moving the discussion stage along, and they're in general agreement with Taxman Corp. that the Colt building is simply too costly to save.

We're happy to see any signs of consensus when it comes to downtown development, and delighted to see any Oak Park process moving along faster than your average snail.

Consensus also appears to be coming together on issues like creating a new north-south street between North Boulevard and Lake Street, opening the Marion mall in a modified way to traffic, and preserving several buildings in the eastern portion of Westgate.

Though there are still plenty of critics (including us?#34;we aren't wholeheartedly in favor of all of the above), the committee has done a reasonably good job of incorporating input and keeping the process public. We hope that continues.

The financial piece of this puzzle, for instance, needs to be put on the table by the village (subsidies, incentives, prices for village-owned land sold to developers, etc.) in order to avoid a Whiteco-style debacle. We trust village hall has learned their lesson from mistakes made in the past. We also urge Taxman Corp., which we want to see as a development partner, to be equally forthcoming and upfront as they have promised to be.

And whether Taxman ends up as sole or partial developer of the superblock, the village needs to make it clear to all developers involved that we demand a higher level of architectural and design quality than we have gotten in the past (Whiteco, again, and the Shops of Downtown Oak Park spring to mind). Excellent, innovative design, superior materials, and creativity need to be made higher priorities this time around.

One element of downtown development, however, should not be delayed. A new parking garage is essential to the success of any plan for the superblock. That should move ahead with all possible speed.

In addition to historic preservation where feasible, we also need to preserve the commercial viability of the area.


River Forest's birthday party

River Forest has been celebrating its 125th anniversary for most of 2005, but one more event deserves note on residents' calendars. At the regular village board meeting Monday night (7 p.m., a half hour earlier than usual), Laurel McMahon and the other 24 members of the 125th Anniversary Committee will be honored for the untold number of hours they've put in to make this an anniversary worth remembering. It's one more opportunity for River Foresters to come together to recognize a remarkable achievement?#34;125 years of municipal viability. River Forest has not only survived, but is thriving?#34;more alive and exciting now than at any time in its history. That's partly because of the kind of energy and creativity freely donated by the committee volunteers, and certainly deserving of a resounding round of applause. Cake and refreshments will be served.

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