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Almost 40 people showed up at the corner of Harrison and Lombard Friday morning, rallying to show support for the Oak Park Arts District and draw attention to an eyesore.
Business owners and residents alike assembled at the intersection at 11:11 a.m. on 11/11, just outside of the commercial building that partially collapsed three months ago. They then marched a few blocks north to village hall and delivered a handful of letters asking for answers and demanding action in what they say is a neglected business district.
"We just wanted to show that there are faces behind the letters. There are businesses on the line here," said Pamela Penney, an art gallery owner who organized the peaceful protest.
Years ago, village hall put together a plan to spruce up Harrison, but little has happened to date, Penney said. The collapse of 201-211 Harrison St. in August just brought things to a boil.
"It's a shame. It's affected the whole street. If this happened on Lake Street ..." said Jody Andre, who had been running Briejo Restaurant in the building before the cave-in.
The property in question is currently in foreclosure after the River Forest resident who owns it, Chris Kleronomos, fell behind on a $3.5 million construction loan, for which he put 201-211 Harrison up as collateral.
At village hall, the protesters sat down for 30 minutes for an impromptu meeting with Village Manager Tom Barwin. He said plans have been submitted to the village to fix up the building, and if all goes smoothly, it could be ready for Briejo and Prodigy Glassworks to return the second week of December.
Back in August, Barwin asked the village's building codes advisory commission to figure out what went wrong, and what steps village hall can take in the future to avoid a similar situation. And the commission released its report on Monday, concluding that unpermitted work led to the collapse after the contractor improperly removed pieces of the stone masonry that had helped hold the building together.
Commissioners also came up with a list of steps Oak Park can take in the future, such as instituting random inspections, requiring contractors to pass a competency test, increasing penalties for doing work without a permit, and hiring more village staff to enforce codes.
Oak Parker Frank Patterson asked Barwin why some Oak Parkers get fined for the smallest infractions at their homes, and yet Kleronomos seemed to go unchecked while making up the rules as he fixed up his property.
"The village really dodged a bullet on this one," Patterson said. "In the last 27 years that we've lived here, it's been a constant fight with this guy. He's a slumlord, and I'd like to know, is there someone in bed with him?"
But Barwin said he asked the police department to investigate the circumstances leading up to the disaster and found no evidence of corruption at village hall.
Oak Park is currently searching for grant opportunities to fund a beautification of Harrison, Barwin said. They're budgeting to start a Main Street program in 2012, hiring advisors to help build more "cohesive" business districts through uniform hours, marketing, window displays and holiday decorations.
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