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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.
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