VOP asks more from Hemingway, gives another $50K

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The village board approved a $50,000 grant to the Hemingway Foundation for a third year in a row last week, but not before generating ideas about fundraising and what to do with the Boyhood Home.

Representatives of the foundation said they needed village support to reduce debt, but did not have a clear plan to keep Hemingway's Boyhood Home at 600 N. Kenilworth.

Past chair Virginia Cassin told the board someone suggested to her that they rebuild the music room, making it a 1930s arts center. "You may be helping us expand our horizons so we can find a worthwhile new [use] for that house," Cassin said.

The foundation came before the board during a budget study session where it heard funding requests from its partner agencies. The Hemingway Foundation is not a partner agency and doesn't usually receive village funding.

Trustee Robert Milstein, a fundraiser by profession, criticized foundation representatives for not tapping into the worldwide interest in Hemingway to raise money. He was also concerned the group has 10 or fewer $1,000 donors.

"I think you really need to push this effort up," Milstein said.

The board agreed to funding the foundation in 2006, but directed its representatives to work with village staff to develop a long-term plan to save the Boyhood Home.

In other action:

 Trustee Robert Milstein recommended that representatives of the Oak Park Area Arts Council develop a plan for a cultural arts center and present it to the board next year.

 Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Rich Carollo told the board that his organization with working with the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association to bring some of the games and participants of the 2006 Gay Games to Oak Park. The event will be hosted in Chicago next year.

 Trustee Ray Johnson, a marketing professional, suggested to Carollo the development of "branding" the village?#34;a common theme, central website and visual recognition of all things Oak Park.

 Continuing to push the Oak Park Development Corp., trustees said they expected to see big things out of the organization.

"I think we've underutilized you," Milstein said.

President David Pope said he believes OPDC has the potential to be more influential in the community. "I know there's a commitment on the board to do that."

OPDC board chair Marty Noll told trustees the organization is in the midst of developing a strategic plan that will develop "bold initiatives ... all of which will be predicated on our existing relationship with the village."

Noll said he hopes the plan will be completed by the end of the year.

 Representatives of the Downtown Oak Park Business Association said the success of this year's Oktoberfest event was evident in beer sales, which were up 54 percent this year.

 Trustee Martha Brock, after criticizing him for responding in long answers, questioned Housing Authority chair Rick Kuner about the relevance of his organization giving the declining number of apartments due to condo conversions. She said the proportion of apartments in Oak Park has shrunk from 45 percent in 1990 to 37 percent in 2000.

Kuner said the group's mission hasn't changed, and that it still serves nearly 4,000 clients each year, renting to about 800 of them.

Others pointed out that the condo conversion trend has lasted more than a decade, and that market forces will likely start to slow conversions as interest rates rise and a new Cook County property tax rental building incentive goes into effect.

Milstein called for a condo task force to be created "fairly quickly."

Kuner said some of the converted condos are rented out, and Pope said that most of the new units built in Oak Park have been condos, adding to the changing proportions.

?#34;Drew Carter

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