Looking down the road

Roosevelt's future

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Come this fall, Roosevelt Road, Oak Park's southern border, will be decked out with brick sidewalks, decorative streetlights and bike racks. But the fact remains that stretches of the street on its north side are vacant, underused and even blighted.

On the Berwyn side of Roosevelt, development has picked up in recent years. The city has its own Culver's fast-food franchise coming in June, and an Oak Park entrepreneur is opening a European-style café, complete with its own greenhouse.

Berwyn is kicking in about $1.2 million to make those two projects happen, funds from its tax increment financing district — a pool of money used for infrastructure projects and to entice developers. Those dollars may be creating a competitive advantage for Berwyn over Oak Park, said Paul Zimmermann, an Oak Parker and president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association.

"It's hard to get businesses to look at the Oak Park side of Roosevelt Road when on the Berwyn side they could get up to half of their startup costs covered for them by the TIF. It's a struggle," he said. "You look at Roosevelt Road and you can see that the newer businesses going in are all on the Berwyn side. There's really nothing going in at the moment on the Oak Park side."

But TIFs are a touchy subject at the moment in Oak Park, which currently has three TIF districts. The public high school is suing village hall over money it says it is owed from Oak Park's downtown TIF.

Village Manager Tom Barwin thinks, because of the lawsuit, that starting a new TIF would be a tough sell.

"In light of the grief and some of the silo thinking that's going on here, it would probably be an uphill battle," Barwin said.

So local leaders are exploring alternatives to help move Roosevelt development forward. One way could be to create a "special service area," an extra tax on property owners that would fund maintenance of the street, promotions and special events.

Such an SSA could be paid for by all three towns (including Cicero and Berwyn) that share Roosevelt between Austin and Harlem, Barwin said,. Downtown Oak Park already has an SSA, which provides the $650,000 budget for the shopping district's business association.

The three communities have already collaborated to fund the $9.5-million street project on Roosevelt, which is expected to be finished by mid-November. And Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero have all adopted new zoning regulations governing how the street can be developed in the future.

Oak Park Development Corp. is making active efforts to recruit businesses to the north side of Roosevelt, said Village President David Pope, using tools such as façade grants and loans. Berwyn's development corporation has played a big role in helping to revitalize the street for the village's southern neighbor, he added.

Pope hopes that the new street project will make Roosevelt friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists and a more attractive spot for new businesses.

"The emphasis right now is on completing the infrastructure investments and continuing to support the village and OPDC programs designed to encourage investment through the corridor," Pope said.

Still, it's hard not to think about TIFs, says Zimmermann, who owns buildings on both sides of the street and is president of the Berwyn Development Corp. Cicero is also considering starting a Roosevelt TIF, he said. And one stretch of vacant properties along Roosevelt — between Humphrey and Taylor, which formerly included a used-car dealership and a video store — is tailor-made for the use of TIF dollars, he said.

"Developers are always looking for any way to help their bottom line," he said.

Oak Parker John Aranza received $125,000 in TIF money from Berwyn, which he's using to help open Autre Monde Café by June. He also owns the Horrorbles memorabilia shop right next door.

Aranza thinks an Oak Park TIF could help unify both sides of Roosevelt and make the street more successful.

"The businesses in the corridor right now don't look at it as one side of the street or the other," he said. "Everybody's just trying to really push forward in making Roosevelt Road viable in a complete sense of the word without having to say, 'Let's go to the Oak Park side or the Berwyn side.' We want it to be something that's universally appealing for visitors who are coming in."

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

OP Resident  

Posted: April 28th, 2011 12:29 PM

Is Ray Johnson willing to share his opinion? I was not surprised that the trustees ignored those referendums. Local heavyweights wanted no part of a Living Wage ordinance. It appears board members have no interest going against the wishes of the local business community. The Village Board and adminstration would strongly oppose the idea of residents deciding if another TIF district should be established. I don't they would appreciate learning how many in the community feel about our local TIFs.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 28th, 2011 12:25 PM

TIF's can be used many different ways. Berwyn approach has been to use it business community to openly be an extremely active counsel to the government. OP hasn't. Berwyn targeted small projects that have quick results. OP has used TIF money on big projects hoping for big returns. Berwyn has transformed itself in the last ten years. OP has stutter stepped with successes and failures. Madison is an excellent example, 5 years into the TIF, small businesses are worse off and the big deals linger.

john murtagh - Edit from oak park  

Posted: April 28th, 2011 12:02 PM

Oak Park Resident - The Living Wage Ordinance and the Vaccination votes both started with referendums. Neither was enacted by the board, but the referendums did surface the issue village wide. Both referendums started at Oak Park Township Board Meetings. OPT's form of government is similar to the Town Hall meeting popular in New England. At a Town Hall meeting, referendum can be proposed and voted on by not only the board members but any resident in attendance. Approved referendums get a vote

OP Resident  

Posted: April 28th, 2011 9:35 AM

No doubt, RR. Developers and business owners have enjoyed the benefits of TIF districts. I am concerned about the lack of oversight and transparency we've experienced in Oak Park. Questions about waste and mismanagement have never been properly addressed. I have to agree with Paul regarding "blight" in Oak Park. Officials have clearly violated the spirit and intent of TIF when the result is handing over tax dollars to wealthy businessmen. Local banks refusing to invest complicates the problem.

paul from oak park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:16 PM

Oh, oh, don't say "blighted". That word has cost Oak Park over $42 million and counting directly from our TIF and indirectly bankrupting Dist. 97 to whit; Taxman got $6.5 and that was the project that was single-handedly going to "jump start" Oak Park,15 years ago.Vacant stores still surround the project. $17 million was given to another developer who is one our country;s wealthiest men. This gave us the world's smallest Trader Joe's with a parking garage we must, by law, rebuild every 30 years

RR Business Owner from Berwyn  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:52 AM

In response to both posts, as a business owner in this economy TIF, SSA's, micro-financing are all very key to helping small businesses. I have a business that because of such, helped launch a new project when no bank would lend.This was done without any political influence. The value of such programs are reflected in taking a blighted building, as I did, and turning it into a revenue-generating entity. I have no experience with OP TIF, but I take offense a sweeping statement as posted.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 12:33 AM

I wish I understood the ins and outs of TIF funding. Conceptually, TIF's makes sense to me, but the information on how TIF money is actually spent and what return on our tax investment we get remains unclear. It would be nice if someone could tell us in an understandable way whether the TIF's are a good investment on our tax dollars and exactly how much. PLEASE, do not send me to a spreadsheet written by and for CPA's. Let's start with projection of the return we expect from the Madison TIF.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 10:22 PM

Is it permissible under Illinois law for residents to vote on the question: "Should a TIF district be established?"? The purpose of a TIF was to assist poor communities. Oak Park and a lot of other munipalities legally worked the system but acted in violation of spirit and intent. Let's not pretend that didn't happen. We've seen how politicians are able to use this money pot without real oversight and transparency. I don't care who is calling the shots in Oak Park. It's time to close out TIFs.

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