Village hall, still operating in a vacuum

Opinion: Columns

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By Karen Morava

Dear President Abu-Taleb and Oak Park trustees,

I am writing as a small business owner and resident of Oak Park for more than 25 years. On Oct. 21, fencing went up in parking lot 10 on North Boulevard, rendering unusable 23 spaces to accommodate the building of a solar canopy and iGo station. This project was approved, as best I understand, over three years ago by a prior board. 

If I understand correctly, the project had to be started by a certain date to receive grant money. The project was delayed, and thus completion has now been pushed back until Dec.16 at best. Due to the late Thanksgiving holiday, the shopping season this year is extremely short, only 26 days in length. These 26 days, as well as the last two weeks of November are crucial to a small business such as ours, as we need to generate 25% or more of our yearly revenue within that compressed time frame. 

When the previous board approved this project, why was Downtown Oak Park not informed, much less consulted at length? Were property owners who rent apartments regarded or advised? Was anyone in the downtown area included in any discussions? Was anything written into the agreement that if construction couldn't be completed by October 2013, it could not go forward? Was any incentive clause written into the contract to complete the project ahead of schedule? Has there ever been a construction project that doesn't face delays? I think this whole matter clearly displays that Oak Park Village Hall operates in a vacuum. 

DTOP has been informed that the contractor is working as quickly as possible but still maintains that a minimum of 8-10 parking spots will be unavailable as late as Dec. 16. Doesn't sound like much does it? Let's conservatively assume that those eight premium spots turn over five times a day in a 10-hour period, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. That represents the loss of 40 customers, who (conservatively) each spend $25. That lost revenue amounts to $1,000 per day, multiplied by 30 (Nov. 16 through Dec. 16) totaling $30,000. While the loss of $30,000 (conservatively) may not put us out of business, it would necessitate laying off one full-time staff member. With a staff as small as mine, that's a devastating blow to my business and our continued efforts to grow.

We have been told that pressure is being exerted on the contractor but still have few details about who from the village is responsible for this oversight. I have a front row seat every day watching the 2 or 3 workers leave promptly at 3:30, when there is at least 1 1/2  hours of workable daylight left. I've seen the warm weather days squandered when double crews could have been working. 

Who will be your foundation for this area when your small businesses falter and then leave? This entire situation exemplifies what we as business owners have been saying for years: While everything starts out with good intentions, the follow-through isn't complete. In this particular case, communication with, and input from, those most affected appears nonexistent. Consideration of final ramifications were clearly not thought out. 

Since there's no going back now, I'm asking this board to not pass the buck, to step in and exert your own pressure on the contractor to get this project done. You have considerably more influence than I do. I'm frustrated that the very people who have invested so much in this community are paying the price for this fiasco.

Karen Morava is the owner of Careful Peach, 1024 North Blvd., in Oak Park.

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Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 5th, 2013 2:58 PM

Excellent questions, Karen. Too often it seems that local business owners are being left out of a decison making process.that will directly impact their bottom line. Please share any response you receive from the Village President or trustees.

john butch murtagh from oak park  

Posted: December 5th, 2013 1:15 PM

Boy do I hate to think OP has to have rules to consider the customers needs by using common sense!

Dan Finnegan  

Posted: December 4th, 2013 4:34 PM

Among all of the other rules VOP has, why not add a common sense restriction on street and parking improvements from October 15th thru January 15th in retail districts? Emergency repairs would of course be exempt from the restriction. Might have avoided this problem.

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