Oak Park needs to accommodate visitors, guests and tourists

Opinion

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Within the past several months, I had the need to put up both international and out-of-state visitors. Since I only have a small, one-bedroom apartment, I had to locate a nearby hotel/motel. The only hotel/motel in Oak Park was booked for weeks. The only other nearby suburban location was on Mannheim Road in Stone Park?#34;where I would not have placed Katrina evacuees! My only viable option was downtown Chicago.

The reason I write this is to alert the "powers that be"?#34;who certainly elude me?#34;to perhaps focus some attention on visitors and tourists to the quaint, historically significant village of Oak Park. This to reduce some of their, and everyone's, angst, frustration, and brouhaha over traffic & parking; condos & single-family homes; retail and shoppers (parking); development and preservation; and character and greed. All, of course, clouded over by taxes and dollars.

What about visitor and tourist dollars? Cities, states and countries around the world spend huge sums of money to attract and accommodate visitors be they for conferences and conventions; for seminars; for banquets or wedding receptions; for art shows and other cultural events; and for special events. Or just more lodging space for tourists.

Unfortunately, due to lack of lodging in the area, my guests and I spent only a few hours, and zero dollars, in Oak Park and many hours and dollars in Chicago.

The village-owned property at the NE corner of Oak Park and Madison would make a wonderful site for a hotel and conference/banquet center?#34;not just another shoebox structure, but a unique, architectural gem with a Wright flavor, of course with adequate parking. Oak Park is indeed a unique community and has a strong, international franchise in its painted ladies, historic districts, F.L.W., and Hemingway?#34;but the village doesn't seem to recognize it. It needs to aggressively promote, but first Oak Park needs to be able to adequately host and accommodate individuals and groups?#34;and not require them to "nest" in Chicago or Stone Park.

On a slightly relevant subject, I invited friends out from Chicago for dinner and the Art on Harrison event on Saturday night, Sept. 10. Although highly publicized as running from 6 until 10 p.m. on that Saturday, when we arrived at 8 p.m., the whole strip was dark and deserted. There was one gallery open on the west end of Harrison and one quasi-gallery/retail store open on the other end. In between were empty banquet tables on the sidewalk and no other people on the art walk. All the other galleries and stores were locked and dark, except for Howard Brown resale shop which was very busy. A side street had a 3-piece musical group playing to an audience of three being watch over by three bartenders.

My friends were somewhat "put-out," and I felt like a schmuck. All I could say was, "That's Oak Park. It's kind of a weird place."

It seems to me that Oak Park has a discombobulated identity problem. To me it's just a "bedroom community" along with all the ramifications that that implies. There are others who think otherwise. Oak Park has much to offer "the outside world," but it needs a unified outlook, not just a pile of dusty plans. And if it wants to offer more than just a place to live, then it has to be more accommodating to guests, visitors, and tourists.

Don Gregor
Oak Park

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