A conversation with Anan Abu-Taleb

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By Garret Eakin

Architecture

I arrived at Maya del Sol at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening. The Latin-inspired restaurant has presence on the street which is the first thing, as designers, that we want to establish: a first impression.

My impression was lively, colorful, welcoming and fun. A good deal of transparency exposes the interior which features the colors of the cuisine-gold, red, mint green and charcoal. Parked out in front is the Maya limo, covered by colorful graphics that you might find on buses in the city. The vintage vehicle, provided free of charge, is for groups who would like to be picked up in style or safely escorted home after a night of partying. It struck me this is creative, thoughtful, and good business.

The hostess immediately greeted and informed me that Anan was on the way and to have a drink at the bar. Steady groups of guests filled the energetic room. Latin music and sounds of martinis being shaken soon dominated the bar. The warmth of the staff is reflected in the ambiance of the colorful lounge.

On the way to a semi-quiet corner of the patio, Anan greeted a number of customers with open arms. The popular outdoor dining area was abuzz with activity. I was impressed with the thought that Anan had put in to creating, building, developing and growing this very successful business, and now as president he is in a powerful position to apply those skills to developing and improving Oak Park.

I asked Anan why he wanted to be village president.

"It was time for me to contribute back to this community," he said. "I can bring people together." His restaurant is physical testimony to that skill. In government — and restaurants — he said, "The key to success is getting everyone to work together for our mutual benefit. This starts with the board, then the staff and finally with the citizens." He sees investment and development in the village as a priority to address the unsustainable high property taxes. He wants to change the mindset of the community to reach out and embrace investors who see the village for its untapped potential.

We talked about the stalled development at Lake and Forest. Anan is very concerned with the developer's ability to secure financing as well as the continued delays. It took much too long to get zoning approval and building permits. The developer lost his opportunity to start construction years ago.

Because of his business background, Anan knows the value of a sense of urgency. "We need to buy into making the community more responsive and friendly for investment. These groups are taking most of the risk, and we all benefit from reasonable taxes, an energetic downtown and great schools."

Regarding the re-energized development at the Colt building site, Anan is concerned with the focus on residential. He maintains that national retailers would be attracted to this site if it is properly designed, based on the demographics. I expressed my concern that the developer primarily has built ugly "Big Box" stores and the architect is middle-of-the-road. We all can picture what might come out of this team. Hire a good architect and you will likely get good architecture. What is wrong with keeping it simple?

Anan's theme is "Oak Park is open for business."

"I think we are at the tipping point, and we need to prepare ourselves for the new era of development being flexible and open-minded."

One of the reasons he ran was to stop the over-thinking and hesitating, which makes the village stagnate so we lose opportunities.

"We need to think outside the box," he said, "and if that doesn't work, make the box bigger and find opportunities."

Anan is creative, entrepreneurial, personable and a savvy businessman who loves Oak Park. Let's come together with the leadership our president is providing and step up to make something happen that we all can be proud of and enjoy.

Oak Parker Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.

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