Plans approved for Oak Park Avenue, South Marion Street

Village hopes to get high-profile street projects rolling later this year

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park village board approved ambitious plans on Monday to upgrade stretches of Oak Park Avenue and Marion Street with bricks, bluestone sidewalks and fancy bike racks. But whether the plans ever become a reality depends on how much they end up costing.

Back in November, the village approved a $102,739 contract with Chicago-based Lakota Group. Oak Park asked the consultant to work up plans to redo the 100 blocks of South Marion and South Oak Park Avenue, along with the 100 block of North Oak Park Avenue.

Lakota — which also designed the fancied stretched of Marion Street just north of the Green Line tracks — presented its plans on Monday for the first time. Ideas include a public square, complete with a fountain near Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard, a giant "speed table" at the Oak Park Avenue and Hunter's Court pedestrian crossing, and a permanent web of lights hanging over South Marion.

Lakota believes the new streets will help entice building owners to invest in their properties, approve their appearance and make the areas more traversable for bikes and pedestrians. They want to connect Oak Park's main shopping districts while also letting them retain their own identities.

"Each little district has its own character," said Scott Freres, Lakota's principal. "That means we're not going to drop the same canopy into every district and say that that's the right fit, because it isn't."

Oak Park spent about $6 million five years ago to rip up the former pedestrian mall on the 100 block of North Marion and open it up to traffic. Officials say the project has been a boon — every storefront is filled on the block and millions have been invested in surrounding properties nearby.

Lakota didn't have an estimate on how much the project might cost, but some trustees were hesitant about spending millions on just a couple of blocks.

"There's significant concern that this is extravagant," said Trustee Jon Hale. He asked whether Oak Park could spend less while still having the same impact on the village's downtown.

Trustee Colette Lueck questioned whether there would be the same opportunities for investment as there has been on the 100 block of North Marion.

"It has to be something significant to justify that kind of investment," she said.

The village board gave staff permission Monday to go out and ask construction companies to make bids on doing the work. Officials said they would likely return on March 28 to seek board approval for the offers. Oak Park has said previously that it wants to have the work finished this summer.

Reader Comments

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Dave Biggus from Oak Park  

Posted: March 12th, 2011 5:51 PM

I'm guessing those in favor of the new Senior Center were well aware of the Lakota plan. The idea that Oak Park Ave south of the tracks had seen its best days now seems specious. It's a shame that such a natural extension of the business district, now with beautification plans like these, will be less than 30% commercial. Is anyone taking notes?

I want my cut. from OP  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 9:55 AM

NO BID CONTRACT. Can I get some of that money. Pleeeeze.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 9:27 AM

The 'Bricks instead of Books' plan is that of David Pope. Instead of downtown property taxes going to D97/D200, 80% is instead diverted to the TIF, which Pope wants to spend on more brick streets and bluestone walks. He already spent $7.2M on N. Marion St. Mean while, his allies on D97 board, led by Traczyk and Spatz, are beating the drums for a referendum. Also, while the village rated the street condition of 100 S. Oak Park Ave. as very good, it gave failing grades to most residential streets.

elaine mary  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 11:06 PM

I know that investing in children reaps great rewards now and in the future. I can't say the same thing about brick streets. I think the Village Board should show that they value the art and music program at 97, and give back the brick street money to 97. Last year,I read that the brick street project will cost over $20M. If it's true that 97 accounts for 1/3 of the collected TIF funds, then that means not doing the brick street would give 97 over $6M for art and music.


Posted: March 9th, 2011 10:08 PM

Who said anything about length of TIF? Have you ever heard of Carve outs???

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 6:28 PM

TIF 101 corrected. The downtown TIF was created in 1983 (when Reagan was President), and extended to 2018. So the property base has been frozen for 28 years and will continue for another 7 years, for a total of 35 years. Please tell me who makes an investment that does not pay off, if at all, for 35 years? The term for this is generational inequity. The village can declare a surplus for any year, or decommission the TIF at anytime, thus returning the property tax to others agencies, such as D97.


Posted: March 9th, 2011 5:57 PM

elaine, TIF 101. 1.Freeze tax dollars going to taxing bodies at a certain yr's rate. 2. Build up TIF fund to spend within TIF district to make improvements and promote private improvements so that the TAX dollars that WOULD have gone to the taxing bodies are INCREASED!!! Hence turn the $2 MILL into $4 MILL. Capiche??

elaine mary  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:20 PM

Why the rush? According to the Vil.Bd.schedule, the March 28 date is listed as a special board meeting. If the Vil.Bd. is going to spend millions of dollars, the discussion and vote should take place at a regular I wish the village would fast track a decision to not spend TIF dollars and send the surplus to Dist.97. That would go a long way in reducing the need for more property taxes.

Concerned Driver from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:03 PM

The drawing and notes say that a plaza w/b on South Blvd--to build that means taking out the lane of parking. Those spots are always full and support the businesses on South Blvd. So, I guess we want to reduce parking in the shopping district?

Op Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 1:26 PM

Hold on! There's no estimate on how much this is going to cost. But the Village Board is anxious to have the work finished by the summer. Stop the insanity!

elaine mary  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 1:03 PM

If the TIF funds are not spent on this project, the funds can be returned to the local taxing bodies. All the village board has to do is declare a surplus of dollars in the TIF fund. Then District 97 can get at least $2M to keep art and music in the schools. I think that is a better use of these dollars.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 12:21 PM

That's good to know Mr. Johnson. Thank you for providing that information.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 11:44 AM

I believe the headline is a bit ahead of the plan. There has been nothing finalized in regards to the infrastructure and streetscape improvements; rather bids are being sought and a final determination of whether or not to proceed will than take place. With regard to Ms. O'Shea's comment -- funds for the project are identified from within the TIF. Those funds must be spent within the specific boundaries of the TIF, which in this case roughly include Harlem / Euclid and Ontario / Pleasant.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 10:29 AM

Ugh. Do we need to sink this much into this one area? Couldn't we do something less elaborate and share the funds with the south side?


Posted: March 9th, 2011 10:10 AM

Pedestrian plaza? Didn't we just pay millions to pave over one of those a few blocks up? Investing in property? Weren't we just told this stretch of Oak Park Avenue couldn't even support a vacuum cleaner store? Lakota Group meet OP Township. OP Township meet Lakota Group. Grrrrrr

Nick from oak park, Illinois  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 10:08 AM

sweet, now we can have even more idiots riding their bikes on the sidewalk on the avenue.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 7:20 AM

"Lakota believes the new streets will help entice building owners to invest in their properties, APPROVE their appearance and make the areas more traversable for bikes and pedestrians" Pleazie proofreadie

k conklin from oak park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 6:53 AM

I watched the streetscape improvements happen along Chicago Ave. Upon completion, all workers picked up and left. Since then, it doesn't appear that Oak Park Public Works is doing anything to maintain the iron flower "boxes". Quite honestly, they have been a mess and now that spring is approaching, I expect more eyesores. I will not support any more new money being spent in Oak Park if forethought is not given to the future. Can David Pope et al quit spending our money foolishly?

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