When the Journal broke the story last fall that Oak Park Township was negotiating to purchase a building on Oak Park Avenue to use as a senior center, we opposed the plan. Now the deal is nearly done. The township has entered a contract with the new owner of the property and only needs approval from voters, in a public meeting this evening, to finalize the plan.
The senior center is needed. The current facility is hidden away in the upper reaches of the Oak Park Arms retirement hotel. The township is sinking rent into a largely invisible, inaccessible location. The township — and remember this is a distinct public body — has carefully set aside money over a decade so it could invest when the moment was right. Now, its officials believe, the moment has arrived.
The property they seek has been empty for several years, tied up in a larger, failed commercial development. With foreclosure and the bum economy, the two-story 1920s building can now be had for $650,000. That's half the purchase price from a few years ago. Another half-million, also already tucked away by the township, will be used to renovate the structure.
Our concern now, as it was last year, is that the 100 block of south Oak Park Avenue has potential to be a vital commercial area. It isn't now. We know that. Our offices, after all, have been on this block for 30 years. Several years ago, along with The Avenue business association, we urged the village to rezone this block to prevent a use such as the senior center, or some other non-retail, non-restaurant uses. The village declined to accommodate that suggestion.
The result is that no zoning variances are required for the senior center, and while not the ideal use, it will bring people and activity to the block. On that basis we support the township's effort.