New street, plaza downtown earn Plan Commission kudos

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

The Plan Commission is in general "enthusiastic and encouraged" by the proposed plan for redevelopment of Downtown Oak Park and neighboring business districts, and is especially interested in seeing the village pursue the plan's recommendation to create a new street in Downtown, according to a letter to planning consultants from commission chairperson Colette Lueck.

The commission called the suggested creation of Station Street, which would run from the transit station on North Boulevard through to Lake Street, the "single most important improvement" recommended in the plan and one that should be "the number one priority for the village."

"We feel that the new street would not only improve circulation in the area, but would create energy and excitement," the letter states. Though building the street would require demolishing as many as seven buildings, including several Tudor-style structures on Westgate Avenue, the commission expressed an opinion that those buildings are "obsolete and have passed their prime."

The Plan Commission also supports the controversial idea of re-opening the Marion Street Mall, providing that only one-way northbound traffic be allowed. The commission also suggested that a "serpentine" driving lane be built, which would create "pockets of parking" on both sides of the street.

Creation of "Founder's Square," a proposed plaza at Forest Avenue and Lake Street adjacent to Austin Gardens, was also a supported suggestion. To construct the square, part of the HobbyTown USA building would have to be demolished. The commission added that placing a fountain at the square would be an attractive option.

Rather than construct a new arts center, the commission said looking to the 19th Century Club and Hemingway Museum as buildings to accommodate that use would be beneficial. The consultant has proposed adding those two sites to Downtown's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.

The commission also supported keeping building height in downtown limited to between 5-10 stories.

Other commission recommendations included: Redesigning the Gap and Old Navy buildings, the architecture of which "is, and will be, out of character with the greater downtown area"; not tearing down the "Gale House," located just south of Unity Temple; expanding the primary retail area all the way to Harlem; creating a village program that would make financial assistance available specifically to small retailers, rather than larger national chain stores.

Contact: kgrayson@wjinc.com

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