By Dan Haley
Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
Primed for growth except for: Mary Ludgin is one of the brighter voices on economic development in Oak Park and River Forest. Bright smart. And bright optimistic. She spoke last week at the annual meeting of the Oak Park Development Corporation and brought a triple threat of perspectives as the director of global investment research for Heitman, a major real estate investment outfit; as a director of the Downtown Oak Park management corporation; and as a medium-term (13 years) resident of Oak Park.
Should also mention that Heitman owns both the Shops of Downtown Oak Park (Gap, Old Navy, TGIFridays) and the River Forest Town Center (Whole Foods, Panera Bread). At the OPDC meeting, she reported that Heitman had recently re-upped leases with five key tenants at the Shops of Downtown Oak Park and that, while she was sworn to secrecy on the specifics, the national retailers said their Oak Park locations performed in the top quadrant of stores within each chain.
Ludgin, who is heavily degreed and sought as a speaker on economic development, told the assembled at the 19th Century Club that Oak Park was poised for a notable recovery as the nation's economy finally sparked. She said Oak Park's demographics, dense inner-ring location, and exceptional transportation ties would move our villages to the head of the line.
There is, of course, always a caution, and from Ludgin it was the property tax burden we all share in Oak Park and River Forest. Her firm sat for a considerable period on the vacant Linens-n-Things store in River Forest before DSW, the shoe retailer, finally took a lease. High taxes, she said, slowed that effort. "It gives retailers pause," she said and they look at locations with lesser taxes.
No simple solution here. We are older and complex towns with expectations of strong services. Voters in both towns have chosen via referendums to raise our own taxes a number of times over the past decade — library, parks, schools. That said, I've also come to the viewpoint that we have reached a saturation level on property taxes that will retard our progress.
He beat the curse: Fifteen years ago when Spiro Papageorge opened Papaspiros on Lake Street, he got mightily annoyed at a column I wrote about the "cursed" location he was moving into. Can't even remember all the various eateries that entered and exited that prime space in short order. Blends, Pacific Rim, The Green Onion, Eggplant, Tsukiji come to mind.
Now Papaspiros is closing. But because he is moving just across the street, albeit with a new name and a somewhat changed menu, and because he made it 15 years, I am officially declaring that he beat the curse. Nice job, Spiro.
And I'm Jim Lehrer: Well, actually I hope to be more like Martha Raddatz or Bob Schieffer when it is time to sit down at the roundtable for the Journal's conversations with the candidates for village president of Oak Park and of River Forest. You might remember that last fall, Lehrer, the otherwise wonderful PBS anchor, moderated the most woeful presidential debate in memory.
Come March, we're hosting these non-debates on consecutive nights at the local libraries. On Tuesday, March 12, I'll talk with Cathy Aducci and Mike Gibbs for 90 minutes at the River Forest Public Library. The next night we'll be at the main library in Oak Park to talk with Anan Abu-Taleb and John Hedges. Thanks to all four of these candidates for readily agreeing to our informal discussion format.