Good news on Madison and, maybe, on Lake St.

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

Full Circle: We're reporting today that Circle Theatre and the Madison Street Theater (Village Players, is what most of us still call it) are near a lease extension that will keep Circle in Oak Park for now.

That is very good news.

For years, everyone has talked about how Oak Park needs a performance space. Well, we have one and now it will be more fully used. Circle, one of the great theater companies in Chicago, stays in Oak Park which is a draw. Other theater groups including Festival Theater will share the space, too. And some version of the old Village Players seems likely to re-emerge with new productions.

Parallel to the current lease talks, the Madison Street Theater board has opened discussions with village government about tapping into the Madison Street TIF for funds to improve its current facility and, potentially, to expand its footprint to the east in the future. The discussions are preliminary, but here's a use of TIF funds that makes sense to me. More than just streetscaping bricks, this is a potential use of TIF dollars to bolster an existing, expanding business that has every possibility of drawing a crowd that will patronize nearby restaurants and promote the village across the city.

Meanwhile, across town: A couple of Oak Park park district candidates let slip, during endorsement interviews with the Journal, that the parks are looking at the vacant Aldi grocery store as a possible home for the overcrowded gymnastics center. It's all preliminary, other sites are being looked at, etc., etc.

Don't mean to jack up the price or queer a deal, but I say stop looking. This is a great location — Lake Street and Humphrey — for many reasons. This gateway to Oak Park needs an anchor, needs the activity an anchor would bring. What better activity than hundreds of local families arriving each week for classes? It has a parking lot. That is gold in Oak Park. It is immediately adjacent to Stevenson Park with its skateboarding facility. And, it is not a great retail location. A gymnastics center would be far superior to most of the retail uses possible at the site.

Quickly: Aren't the origami envelopes used by the Secretary of State's office infuriating? Just renewed my license plate sticker. Took longer to figure out which tabs to fold and detach than to write the check. ... Watch for a big promotion for the Lake Theatre's 75th anniversary. Where would downtown Oak Park be without the Lake as an anchor? ... One inch out of the ground. Plants are growing. Spring has sprung. Not a moment too soon for me.

Referendum details: Oak Park's TIFs come up regularly in discussion of the coming tax hike referendum for District 97. A common point made is that if Oak Park just shut down the downtown TIF and distributed the money back to the other taxing bodies that the elementary schools wouldn't need more money.

There are a lot of good arguments against doing that, but here's one that is curious and counterintuitive. Without the TIF in place, the elementary schools would lose a significant amount of state aid. So they want the TIF to remain through 2018. For reasons I don't fully understand, the opposite is true at the high school. First the high school receives a much smaller share of state aid. But if the TIF went poof, OPRF would gain slightly in state dollars.

School finance is peculiar and complicated.

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OP Resident  

Posted: March 17th, 2011 3:29 PM

I'm not sure who owns the building but it does appear that this property will not be going on the property tax rolls. Ray Johnson once noted that there are a lot of a tax-exempt parcels along the Madison St. corridor. If the Fenwick parking lot is approved; that'll be another parcel going off the rolls. That not good news for taxpayers.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 17th, 2011 2:28 PM

Does Circle own the building they occupy? If not; who does. Do they plan to move to a different location? If they are planning to move, there are loads of good spots in the Madison Commercial Desert - Grove to Home on Madison. It's odd that Circle hit the TIF dole as quickly as they did.


Posted: March 15th, 2011 11:22 PM

I think the Aldi location would be the perfect spot for the Oak Park "stand alone" Police Department they've talked about for YRS!! The empty Foley Rice used car lot would be the more ideal locale for the Gymnastic center.

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