The village pats itself on the back for any number of improvements it has helped make to downtown Oak Park. And the village board does deserve some thanks for the revitalization we've seen over the last 10 years.
Nothing they've done, however, compares to what the Lake Theatre has brought to downtown. The Lake alone draws in hundreds of thousands of people, gives a strong boost to surrounding restaurants and businesses, and brings long lines and life to a corridor once best fit for tumbleweeds. It deserves credit for saving Oak Park's retail heart more than anything else?#34;yes, even Taxman Corporation.
Most important to note now, however, is that the Lake has tremendous potential to be an even greater asset to Oak Park. More screens, and the option to show a greater variety of films, mean more people and better business.
It now appears theatre owner Willis Johnson's only option to grow is to expand vertically. As with all things vertical in Oak Park, this will likely create some controversy, but the expansion effort certainly deserves the support of village government.
Simply put, the village has spent lots of money and energy on far less worthy projects. This is one that should top the priority list in the coming years.
Still a future for OPDC
For the last two years, tension between the village board and Oak Park Development Corporation has been present especially in budget discussions, and even in a speech last year by OPDC board chair Marty Noll.
For the two boards to have a direct and public conversation is commendable, and Trustee Ray Johnson deserves kudos for calling for the joint meeting.
It's been easy, and even sometimes legitimate, to snipe at OPDC and its programs, which aren't producing impressive numbers. One reason for that, however, is clearly that the village has marginalized the organization on the economic development organizational chart.
OPDC offers the village an incredibly important resource?#34;private equity via member banks that can be accessed for public good. It's a resource that the village should seek to tap into more often, and certainly one that shouldn't be destroyed.
As with most meetings in Oak Park, the joint discussion with OPDC left a lot of questions unanswered, and the next steps not completely clear. But we look forward to seeing the two boards continue to look for better ways to work together.
Missing the boat on Cuba
For the second year in a row, girls from the Windmills fast-pitch softball organization traveled to Cuba to play their Caribbean counterparts?#34;a great example of athletic ambassadorship. The Associated Press did an article on it. So did the Tribune and Sun-Times. The only place it isn't getting much attention, sadly, is Oak Park, where the village board continues to be clueless about the possibilities of increasing interaction with Cuba?#34;a natural since Oak Park and Cuba boast the strongest connection to Ernest Hemingway.
Oak Parkers have pushed a sister city arrangement in the past, but the village board has turned a deaf ear. The village stands to gain a lot from greater interaction with Cuba. Just look at the attention the recent softball visit generated.