By Dan Haley
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.