Cracks in the Oak Park streetscape

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

The purpose of Monday evening's sparsely attended Oak Park village board confab was for board members to hear the thoughts of citizens regarding economic development. The more immediate benefit, if they were listening, was for board members to hear each other's thoughts about economic development.

That's because something is up on this village board. The days of lockstep thinking about economic development being defined as massive brickscaping and cur-li-que light fixtures are over. The "if you build it, they will come" approach to streetscaping, seen on two glorious blocks of Marion Street, will not be easily repeated, and not just because the TIF funding model has gone poof.

There is dubiousness loose in the land and no amount of investment in greystone sidewalks is going to walk it back. Multiple board members Monday expressed restlessness not only with the approach to economic development but with their own board's approach to talking about economic development.

The most common question ordinary Oak Parkers ask her about development, said Trustee Colette Lueck, is "what is the role of the board in economic development?" And, she said, "We haven't talked about those issues at all."

Huh? Can that be? Well, it can be if you listen to recent board angst over the last-minute expectation that they'd OK a $100K consultant study to back a multimillion-dollar federal grant proposal that the board hadn't really talked about. It can be if you hear the lukewarm board response to a consultant's proposal for a massive streetscaping/road diet along Madison Street that is neither affordable nor specific to filling the gaping holes which sit just on the other side of the sidewalks along Madison.

Trustee Adam Salzman put his doubts in the form of a question Monday. "Is the best use of money for economic development on infrastructure investments or with specific owners and projects? What do other towns do?" He answered his own question later when he responded to an actual citizen comment about what efforts the village makes to recruit notable entertainment venues to the village.

"What are our strengths?" he asked. "Oak Park has cultural cache. We need to use that. ... I'm all in favor, on Madison especially, of making individual investments. The Madison Street Theater, number one."

A few other notable points: Berwyn has replaced Forest Park at the top of Oak Park's neighbor envy. A citizen rightly called out the Berwyn Development Corporation (BDC) as a far superior development model to Oak Park's mishmash approach. BDC combines the functions of the Oak Park Development Corporation, village business services and a chamber of commerce promotion and marketing effort under one leadership. Until Oak Park finally tackles the essential conflict between OPDC and the village government, there can't be accountability. Berwyn was also credited for its Roosevelt Road TIF and its "Berwyn Rising" marketing campaign.

Also telling was the odd and cautious dance between board and staff over who gets input on development and when. With a major proposal due shortly from staff and the OPDC on business recruitment, retention and marketing, Trustee Glenn Brewer asked at what point staff wanted board input. Beyond the politically correct answer that staff always awaits board input, it seems to me that this is some sort of odd crossroads. The TIF is done. The village has little in the way of other funding sources. There's no village manager. The economy is getting some better. There is an election one year from now. And the divide on the board over what exactly constitutes an economic development strategy is getting more pronounced.

Holding pattern ­— or leadership?

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Posted: April 25th, 2012 9:31 AM

But what if the WIG store(s) have great ROI??? If they are in business in OP(Forest Park ref)they are paying the high rent(for taxes) and making a buck. Hence the high ROI for the Village. Win Win? Not so sure. Someone tell J Murtagh that there is more to dev than ROI when it comes to the Village. Thank You Kyle.


Posted: April 25th, 2012 7:21 AM

We've done big & bold. What we need is useful, stable, & responsible. Though I liked your thinking earlier, Ideas. I'm not sure the "anchor" method works anymore. But it *is* about creating a whole series of desirable places to live, work, shop & have fun. "Integrated" is a good word.


Posted: April 25th, 2012 6:02 AM

a wig store is not a strategy - a strategy is a cohesive set of ideas - and a plan for an integrated approach. Secondly, wig stores are not an anchor - stop thinking in the weeds. thing big and bold -


Posted: April 24th, 2012 6:24 PM

Wig stores have a place...but so do strip clubs. lol I'd hope our development policy is a bit more advanced. Re: risk. At least if a wig store goes under, you just find somebody else to move in. The problem is these larger projects that aren't fully guaranteed to finish/full occupancy at build. Do we have a percent mandatory pre-sold before construction to offset the risk?

MOP-Murtagh's Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 5:18 PM

Sometimes you have to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 4:06 PM

I agree with you both. I am not a financial guy or a greedy guy who hates all taxes. When I was in business, we would create studies that massive and complex, but when the report went to the top, the final decider was ROI. The ROI is the accumulation of all you know the market, the engineering, the land value, the labor costs consolidated into a single indicator of the risk involved. I found it all convoluted at times, but completing a process to ROI proves that due diligence was done. Lack of diligence creates risk and the OP has produced too much of it.


Posted: April 24th, 2012 4:04 PM

If wig and beauty stores didnt have any customers and revenue they will go out of business. Why do you oppose them so much? Clearly there is a need, just like the nail salons.Free markets will dictate what store survive and which store will not. At some point it is the business owner's responsibility to run his/her business so they make a buck. Not the govt intervening.


Posted: April 24th, 2012 2:23 PM

Develop organic food/retail district Develop theather district Develop corporate office district Develop sports district - anything that has a strategy - and draw. I am quite sure a wig /beauty supply district wont


Posted: April 24th, 2012 1:32 PM

Not everything in life that is worthy has a positive ROI though, John. Some things are done for other reasons that aren't so easily quantifiable. I've said before, I'm not against spending tax money per se. That's what taxes are--public money for public good. I see what you're getting at but I'd be a little broader perhaps. Tax money needs to go towards community improvement & needs. Done, I'm all for greater democratic input though. We need participatory budgeting here so voters guide spending.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 1:21 PM

Con't - When village government considers large capital projects, why aren't these items considered "referendums"? They can affect our property taxes greatly when debt is accumulated to pay for these projects. They should be considered items to be voted upon by the residents, just like a referendum to increase the tax levy to local schools - you know, "for the children". How about "for the wage earners", we consider the effects on them when deciding to borrow millions?

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 1:17 PM

JBM and Kyle - one big thing to consider. When a homeowner considers projects and their ROI, they have a limited budget to work with, namely income and possibly, accumulating some debt. This needs to be paid off with a limited resource, namely income. When government considers projects, they have a virtually unlimited resource - taxpayers, who are never consulted on these projects, and only have their say at the ballot box at re-election time.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 1:00 PM

Kyle - every penny we spend in our homes is an investment. Some items have a negative ROI like by buying a product you don't need. That draws money away from true needs -- education, retirement savings, food etc. Virtually anything that has value has a ROI and if chosen properly, for instance, if you buy a new car because you can get a ROI through fuel savings, less maintenance and repair, and family safety you will get a positive ROI. If you buy a sport car for fun and take a big debt that you offset by reducing food expenditures, medical care, the family food budget, you will probably have a negative ROI down the road. Home budgeting is no different than village budgeting, except you get to consider the ROI before making a decision. That does not occur on village revenue and expenses on development. You avoid financial risks at home. Does the village avoid risks with the investment money you pay via property tax?


Posted: April 24th, 2012 10:29 AM

(cont) But we get an improved sense of neighborhood with greater diversity of use & a more organic sense of neighborhood than a massive, uniform building/complex. And then focus on what we want here and go get it. If you want upscale restaurants, go bring in upscale restaurants. Turn the attention (like so many areas) back to improving life here rather than focus on "development" per se. Development will come if you do the little things right. We force it, then do it badly.


Posted: April 24th, 2012 10:29 AM

Not to make fun of the ROI/business model, but part of the reason I have a half-finished condo development in my neighborhood or we've had to scale back Lake/Forest is that the Board keeps focus on something too large scale subject to faulty business models & a bad economy. It's wrongheaded, but I understand the motive...more taxes. But it should be about *community*. Small scale. Make it easy. Work on meat & potatoes rather than dreaming big. The "ROI" might not be there in a bottom line...  

Posted: April 24th, 2012 12:08 AM

Thats why so many developments havent moved forward. You cant have it both ways. The economy is turning just in time for the interfaith project and Lake and Forest.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 11:01 PM

In fairness to Dan Haley, a lot of people in Oak Park including civic leaders have been shocked by has been revealed in the village during the last year. Wisdom is the capability to grasp new knowledge and information and adjust one's viewpoints. Holding onto old beliefs is the most dangerous thing one can do. Dan has been objective throughout. That's a sign of wisdom not weakness.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 7:34 PM

John Butch Murtagh, the village boy's and girls don't need to forecast, because it's not their money. If it was, they would spend it on necessities and only if there was something left over, then they may spend it sparingly on a luxury.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 3:56 PM

Enuf - Ecomomics is the study of information that leads to usable knowledge. That knowledge should lead to a detailed forecast of whether things are getting better or worse. That is, a forecast is a numerical expression of a narrative based on knowledge. A board should thoroughly understand the narrative and be able to judge whether the forecast is realistic. The forecast should also contain scenarios to enable the analyst and users to adjust forecasts for changing circumstances. Has anyone ever seen a revenue and expense forecast with an anticipated Return on Investment in Oak Park? The villages biggest failure in the last ten years is the ability to anticipate change and the reason is bad forecasting.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 10:51 AM

Dan, it's nice you have come to realize your friends on the board have no idea what they are doing, or it could be you know your friends are not going to be back after next years election and it's time for you to separate yourself from them. Either way, it's nice that the W.J. won't be the spokesperson for their clever ideas any longer. None of them should be making decisions for Oak Park. Who is going to get taxpayers land at Forest and Lake street back? They had no right to do that.


Posted: April 23rd, 2012 10:01 AM


Bounce Investor  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 9:56 AM

We are developing a sportplex in Berwyn (see article). We tried to disucss the concept with on OP development and gor nowhere. I can tell you Berywn was very strong. They were open to new ideas, smart and saavy. Look at Meijer, and 21 near harlem. Oak Park has so many enduring qualities of which strong economic development is not one. If Oak Park is serious - really serious, you need to get outside the comfort zone, bring in some outside talent and be open to new ideas.

MOP-Murtagh's Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 9:34 AM

I love Oak Park and Ray Johnson. Ray is what Oak Park stands for. Its people like Ray Johnson that have made Oak Park what it is and what it will become. It is clear that my fellow voting residents feel the same way based on the last election where Ray received the most votes. Dedicated, reliable, informed, smart and compassionate. :-)

We all Deserve Better from OP  

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 4:56 AM

Ray Johnson seems to be a nice man. He also never seems to tell the whole truth about anything. He is the opposite of transparency...he tells you what you want to hear and then does the opposite (remember how he said that the Village Board was out of the real estate business, then bought a building downtown just a few days later?)

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2012 10:16 AM

In reality, any village board has very little influence over economic development relative to actual drivers, such as retail industry trends, consumer behavior and the overall economy. It is an antiquated notion that elected officials with no professional expertise have the capacity to affect meaningful economic development policy, as demonstrated throughout the years. The board's one meaningful decision point lies with their selection of an effective village manager.


Posted: April 22nd, 2012 12:37 AM

Murtagh says some really stupid, funny things. I will put RJ's record in OP against Murtaghs any day or time. The people of Oak Park deserve someone like RJ, not a tag along johhny come lately political hack like JBM.

Ban Eating and Driving from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 21st, 2012 9:42 PM

John, have to disagree w/ you regarding strangest comments. Every time trustee Luecke opens her mouth something strange, irrelevant or just plain stupid pops out. How the ... did she get elected? Oh yeah, she had a VMA endorsement.

Now? Seriously? from OP  

Posted: April 21st, 2012 4:22 PM

@ @now: Marion St. N&S is lovely. They were was nice before, however. I submit that despite its tourist friendliness, it was a very poor way to spend TIF dollars. Has the tax base increased? If so, exactly how much? How many years will it take to pay back those dollars? Could they have been spent more productively? My point is that after you've made big, multi-million$ decisions is NOT the time to start discussing economic dev'mnt philosophy. But I'm glad you think it's pretty <sigh>


Posted: April 21st, 2012 3:01 PM

Marion st is nice. It's a pleasant area to walk around, and Oak Park is better for it, BUT there comes a time where ESSENTIAL servicing needs to be prioritized. This is also important when financial times are hard as we cannot afford to spend on beautification at the expense essential structures. Yes, keep making OP a beautiful and fun place to live and visit, but don't spend what we don't have or won't get back when we need to spend on things like infrastructure.


Posted: April 21st, 2012 11:35 AM

Take a walk down Marion. If thats not worth it, I cant help you. I am so grateful for my tax dollars as well as my federal tax dollars going to great projects. Marion st N and S is one of those projects. I can only imagine not spending enough money and having less than average streets in our busiest shopping district.

Now? Seriously? from OP  

Posted: April 21st, 2012 8:12 AM

NOW the Board is having a conversation about economic development strategies? After giving away land for $1 to Sertus who isn't building anything? After brick paving all over the place? After approving the Madison Street housing project? After buying the building in DTOP and taking no action with it? It's many millions have been wasted without any clear sense of how to do their most basic task. Fire them all.


Posted: April 20th, 2012 11:23 PM

Oak Park needs better strategies than what's happening now. Oak Park tends to rest on it's own legend to attract new residents, visitors and businesses, but that's only going to get it so far. The stores a nd eateries here are OK, nothing that is a must travel to place. Take a note from anywhere that's successful and don't let the ego get in the way of considering smarter communities ideas.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 8:56 PM

I capture comments as they are said. If Johnson has a habit of being the board member with the strangest comments, that is not my fault.  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 5:12 PM

MOP - probably because Ray may run for President and that wouldn't be good for OP. And before you jump on me for not having a unique thought due to my parentage, that's my thought based on interaction, watching him in meetings, and voting record. Agree with Kyle on Salzman asking the right questions.

MOP-Murtagh's Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 3:20 PM

Why is murtagh so obsessed with Ray Johnson? Murtaghs Oak Park has 2 Billion in the Bank, no TIF, and all school districts are flush with millions and there are no pot holes. And everyone gets to vote on every topic from home on their telephone keypad.

john murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 20th, 2012 2:36 PM

In December, after taking another blast from the residents, Ray Johnson said perhaps another PR campaign was needed -- not a campaign to make the village more appealing and exciting, a campaign to reconnect the board with the community. This type of campaign is used to restore trust in a failing enterprise. It is a sell campaign to use the existing trust to make grow more trust. The more trust you have the more you can grow. If your trust bucket is empty, you just waste energy and time.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 7:35 PM

@OPRFDad I'm actually less skeptical than you on Trustee Salzman here. I say less. Still skeptical. But it really is a mishmash w/no cohesive vision & at least Salzman is asking the right question. Now, whether the Board can pull it together I have no clue. I'm actually in favor of turning to outside ideas & funding voter-approved business ideas for use of space. Lay out goals, crowd source it, then let voters decide what is worthy.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 5:40 PM

So the Board plans to stick its nose in economic development because an election is coming? That's what it sounds like to me. And Salzman's approach appears to be: let's bribe vocal constituencies so they tout us. Not surprising.

12th St Divide  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 3:53 PM

Oak Park has new residential developments along 12th St. One across from Turano. Ones across from Fitzgeralds. Another kiddie corner from Old Giovannis. A new Walgreens on Rigeland. A new CVS on OP Ave. A new Salernos on Maple.


Posted: April 18th, 2012 7:56 AM

12th St Divide is on to something. Yes, Berwyn has improved its side of Roosevelt Road with its curbs, gutters and streetlights. Turano Bread now takes up nearly a quarter mile of space on the Berwyn side, while Oak Park gets its trucks. Fitzgerald's has found its niche, but can't offer parking. There's a new bank building and Culvers' but not much else. In between the highlights there is a lot left that could be done, but will it?

Frank Ferri  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 7:46 AM

I'll take care of it, I love crack!


Posted: April 18th, 2012 7:19 AM

"What do other towns do?" is a great question. And I hope we look not just to our neighbors & the region, but nationally & internationally. There are some great ideas out there. (Though I know we got the harebrained Madison road diet idea from Seattle, so some caution is needed. lol)

12th St Divide  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 12:07 AM

I beg anyone to drive down Roosevelt from Lombard to Harlem and tell me Oak Park has Berwyn envy! The sides are very different. Where Oak Park has residential they have commercial. Where Berwyn has residential Oak Park has commercial. Where is all this Berwyn development? I dont see it.

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