When we think about growing the economy in Oak Park, about the village being an active player in that effort, our minds go to luring a new business to town, and, further, we assume that it will be a retail business.
So it takes a short while to get used to the idea that Oak Park's village government is considering a proposal championed by the Oak Park Development Corporation to offer financial incentives to keep an existing business in town and that the business is an office use, not retail or a restaurant.
The business, so far unnamed but seemingly a marketing services firm, is reportedly locally owned and interested in keeping its headquarters here. But it is growing quickly, has outgrown its current facility in Downtown Oak Park, and is considering a move to a larger space at a lower cost per square foot than Oak Park's high tax environment allows.
The initial concept is that Oak Park would cover the interest on a loan taken out by the business to pay for furnishings and equipment for its new digs. The payout would be capped at $50,000 over a five-year period.
We're not opposed to this idea and we applaud OPDC for being on the front end of the discussions. But more than in most deals, this one will come down to the details worked out in the negotiations. Oak Park will need many protections.
Here are specifics we've heard mentioned in the past week: The business must stay here for at least five years. It must create a fixed number of new jobs at a specified salary point. The new space must have been vacant for two years. The work paid for by the loan cannot be leasehold improvements that enrich a landlord. There must be repayment guarantees if the business goes sideways over the five years.
In short, Oak Park needs both protection and also criteria that set clear precedents so that any insurance agent or newspaper office can't apply for funding. We need to be clear on what our goals are in making this investment. That said, we'd rather see Oak Park invest in specific businesses than in more fancy brickwork or assembling more property.