RF learning to save its history

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The River Forest park board last week decided the district doesn't have the financial or staff resources to care for the historic Women's Club, a decision we find well-reasoned, and one we respect.

Maintaining a historic building can be a strain on any public body, and when people think parks, they think playgrounds and ball fields, not the Women's Club. That in itself makes it difficult for a local government to seek voters' assistance in funding a restoration project, which in this case, would mean an investment of between $500,000 and $1 million.

That said, there's no question that this building needs to be preserved, and it is now incumbent upon the women's club board?#34;and the community?#34;to make sure that happens. Though there's been positive steps in the last year, River Forest is behind on crafting legislation to protect its historic resources.

It's difficult to find a person, or an organization, with deep enough pockets and the right intentions to properly care for and invest in the club. But, without any existing government tools to protect it, it will be necessary to undertake a serious search.

Local charitable non-profits, the Historical Society, and the village's ad hoc preservation committee are just some of the groups that could be brought into the process.

If people can come together and fight for the ugly, obsolete, "Hoppe" building in Oak Park, River Forest should be able to muster enough troops to fight for a worthy historic landmark.

Open Marion Street, nicely

From the moment a sketch of a reopened Marion Street mall appeared in a Crandall Arambula (CA) PowerPoint presentation, it was clear the notion would prove controversial.

Many, maybe even most, businesses lining what remains of the full-scale mall of the 1970s that killed Oak Park's already dying downtown are now opposed to a reopening. Even if opening Lake Street helped revive the Lake Street corridor, businesses aren't convinced they need cars on Marion to help boost sales.

Retailers have two major concerns: that the construction process will hurt all businesses on the mall, and possibly force some to close; and that customers who prize the mall's car-free nature?#34;especially parents?#34;might not return once the redo is complete.

Despite the merchants' concerns, however, we're confident the street can be reopened in a way that will preserve a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. Nobody is interested in making Marion a full-bore thoroughfare?#34;but there are valid reasons for making it a street, especially important if the village proceeds with Station Street. If we're going to spend millions to tear down old buildings to relieve traffic congestion, it ought to go all the way. To really solve traffic problems, we need a new network of roadways, not just one new route.

Also, of all the areas in downtown, Marion is a prime candidate for improvements?#34;in infrastructure and retail offerings. CA's bold vision of a new downtown doesn't have room for some of the shabbiness we see on Marion.

We trust that planners will take safety concerns of a no-curb Marion seriously.

But we urge the village to be as thoughtful to its business owners as it has promised to be to residents during recent projects and proposals. When it built The Avenue parking garage, businesses benefited from village funding. We think that'd be fair for Marion, too.

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