When locals talk about parking in Oak Park, fingers wag, eyes roll and the conversation can become a rant about the inadequate number of lots and spots currently in the Downtown business district.
Many long-time Marion Street retailers like Daniel DeMarte, owner of the newly-opened Vestio, aren't reserved about their frustration over the quick tick meters and hard-to-find street parking for customers.
"They can talk all they want about the parking on the other side of Marion Street, but it is meaningless," DeMarte says. "There should be more parking somewhere near here."
Sure, bring your car! The Marion Street project will add 80 surface parking spaces. The handy map at right locates all parking lots and garages.
Village Manager Tom Barwin says the local retailers are right, because every on-street parking spot, depending on which study one believes, can generate anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in retail revenues. Related to those stats, the village has created 48 new parking spots through the Marion Street project: 11 spots on Marion Street and 10 on Lake Street, in addition to the 27 spots that will be in the new Marion Street parking lot that is currently being designed. Additionally, before the village started the project, North Boulevard was converted to a one-way street in order to add an additional 35 to 40 spots. In all, by the end of the redevelopment of Marion Street, the village will have added about 80 new surface parking spaces to the area.
"Recently we have received seven submissions for requests for qualifications (RFQ) for new developments (in Downtown) and we will begin to turn our attention to Westgate and the North Boulevard parking lot options and opportunities," Barwin says. "Don't be misled. Although we appreciate the importance of parking, the primary driver in this restreeting was to have the new street retain a pedestrian orientation and feel, so you will see very narrow lanes, very beefy sidewalks, a variety of outdoor café possibilities, bike racks and sitting opportunities. We also have a sound system that is wired into it for special events."
Loretta Daly, the village's business services manager, adds that the Holley Court Garage has just been expanded to 1,200 spaces, and the RFQ for the Colt Building includes discussion about a garage for North Boulevard. The village also has a redevelopment agreement with Morningside Developers for the corner of South Boulevard and Harlem, which will have a parking component.
"Our job is to make sure that we have a parking system as well as signage to make people comfortable getting to Holley Court and utilizing it," Daly says. "We are looking at the employee parking in the area, and how we can better address their needs and get them to more remote locations so we can open up more street parking for customers. Any development they do in conjunction with the Colt site will speak to the parking lot being proposed on North Boulevard, but we just don't know what that will look like yet."
One move in the right direction, says Pat Zubak, executive director of the Downtown organization, could be hiring a parking consultant who could take a longer view of the situation by doing an assessment of how Oak Park parking spaces are being organized. She acknowledges that while there is the expanded Holley Court garage, that it is now "up for grabs" because the construction workers from the Whiteco project are using it. Also frustrating for Downtown retailers is the Forest and Lake garage, which may eventually be wrapped up in a larger development project, though there are no definite plans right now. Zubak also wonders what will happen with the Colt Building redo.
"The North Boulevard property is potentially on the table, too. So there is another possible property for a parking deck," Zubak says. "So we are looking at a lot of possibilities at this point. We are certainly in a better place than we were a year ago, in regards to parking, especially with the lot that was lost behind Chase Bank. That has taken its toll on the Downtown business community. But now, bit by bit, we are starting to get that all back.
"Any business district will have parking issues," she says, "but I think if shoppers will come down here, they could definitely find a spot in one go-around between all the different lots and spots on the street. If you are going to be here for a couple of hours, the best bets are the decks in Holley Court and Forest Avenue so you don't have to run out and feed a meter, because that is a hassle, too. A lot of people are hesitant to do that, but once you do, you find out how easy it is because the first two hours are free, and you can't beat that."