Madison's future

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Major development projects are seldom simple. And so it is with the extended effort by Oak Park village officials to plant something more substantive on land it owns at Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue. Something more accretive to the public good than parking for Fenwick students or the every-December Christmas tree lot. 

There have been fits and starts on this project for decades, same as elsewhere on this one-time auto row that has been having an identity and property tax-producing crisis since the last Chevy was sold on the current site of village hall in the early 1970s. That is pushing a half-century ago, people.

So we're encouraged by news from Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb that painfully slow negotiations continue, which could bring a major retail tenant (read, grocery store) and a bounty of condominiums to the north side of Madison Street, stretching from Oak Park Avenue to Wesley.

Word that the innovative concept of bending Madison to craft a deeper lot for potential development on the south side of the street has gone by the wayside is neither here nor there. If it landed Oak Park a Mariano's — it seemingly won't be Mariano's — and all the sales and property tax that would have followed, we'd contort the street in all manner of ways. If it means moving the anchor tenant to the north side and just rebuilding Madison Street with fresh underground plumbing and a handsome cul-de-sac at Euclid, we'd also be content.

The point is simple. Madison Street has been a largely failed street since the auto dealers left for more acreage in the 'burbs decades ago. It is the single greatest development opportunity Oak Park has. And it is going to bring active village focus to an area of town not called Downtown for the first time since the pedestrian mall was installed on Lake Street.

This is no shot in the dark. There are multiple signs of life on Madison — from the 20 townhouses going up on the site of the old District 97 HQ/Robinson's Ribs block, the Rush Oak Park investment in a necessary new ER, and, more modestly, the new infill Sherwin Williams store on the site of a long vacant gas station.

Pay attention but don't get diverted by inevitable incentives the village will offer developers. A nine-story building on Madison is just fine. The road-diet, lane-reduction concept makes a lot of sense if you want Madison to be the hub of a community and not a throughway. And we will work to get our minds around a grocery store on the second floor.

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