I read in a recent Wednesday Journal that the village board is planning to spend $5 million to redo South Marion and South Oak Park Avenue [Downtown Oak Park street redos could be done by November, News, Jan. 19]. This is a lot of money to spend at a time when so many village employees have been laid off and our state income taxes are increasing. It would be worth it if it helps existing businesses attract more customers, and helps both redone blocks attract and retain more businesses. But the point is we don't know if that will be the case.
The village has spent a lot of money on streetscapes, which have failed to stimulate viable retail districts. Our board seems to be operating under the illusion that "If we build it, they will come." Yes, this seems to have worked on North Marion, but this has not been the case elsewhere. Very few shopping centers get built until there are at least commitments from the stores that will anchor the project. Why not take that approach with these two blocks? Let's involve a national retail-recruiting firm to help us plan and market the upgraded blocks. Don't even start the projects until a certain percentage of the storefronts are leased.
And let's not forget all the empty storefronts on Chicago Avenue, Lake Street, South Oak Park Avenue, North Avenue and so on, as well as all the storefronts rented to service firms that generate much less tax revenue for the village than restaurants and stores. While we're at it, let's develop retail plans for all of our shopping districts, and hire a recruiting firm to fill them. I'd pay a firm a hefty fee if it succeeded in attracting the kinds of businesses we want to have, rather than simply investing in streetscapes and hoping they will do so.
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