Here are a range of thoughts on a panoply of local issues:
Who's the owner? How queer is the situation in the Arts District on Harrison Street? Construction crews removed the fencing around the newly rebuilt storefronts at Lombard and Harrison. And it looks good. Nice work by local architect Tom Bassett-Gilley to create a new façade that looks like it belongs on the 1920s-era building.
Matt Kwilas, the owner of Prodigy Glassworks, a tenant in the building at the time its façade collapsed in a heap a year ago, wants to move back in. But his lease has since expired and his plaintive question is who does he negotiate a new pact with? The foreclosed property is owned by a bank. But the former disgraced owner, Chris Kleronomos, seems to still be in control of the property. And Kliwas has now filed a suit against the bank, Kleronomos and the village.
We have now arrived at the stupidest moment in the whole 25-year debacle along Harrison Street. We have a tenant with a previously viable business but he can't reopen because he doesn't have a lease.
This is the futility of the Arts District in a nutshell. The village government has spent decades appeasing a major property owner (seven buildings along the street, all now in foreclosure) who has not a clue how to operate commercial buildings. How any sort of artists' enclave has survived this gross failure by the village to take action at any point since the early 1980s is pretty much a miracle.
Now is the moment when the village must lead. Who is going to step up? Just waiting to see what's next isn't nearly enough.
Best case scenario: The Ernest Hemingway Foundation was overreaching in a top-of-the-bubble sort of way when it purchased, with help from an angel, the Hemingway Boyhood Home on Kenilworth Avenue in 2002. When the angel's wings got singed in the economic collapse, it became clear the foundation would need to sell if it planned to remain viable and continue its efforts at the Hemingway Birth Home on Oak Park Avenue.
Now comes word that local buyers have been found, a couple with an interest in Hemingway but a stronger interest in restoring the home as a great family house. Kurt and Mary Jane Neumann will bring the three-flat back to its single-family-home roots circa 1906. And best yet, they've told the foundation they will look for ways to occasionally open the home to visitors interested in Hemingway's early years.
How to measure a high school: The school board and administration at Oak Park and River Forest High School get considerable credit for the ongoing series of frank discussions they are having related to issues of achievement, particularly as it ties to race. Recently the assembled had a long-overdue talk about broadening the definition of the school's success beyond its college-prep heritage. While no one is talking about de-emphasizing the opportunities to prepare students for a four-year college, they have begun to address the truth that not all OPRF students will take that path. So preparing a group of students to thrive in post-high school careers is just as worthy a goal.
We could not agree more.
Bogus strategy: It's the time of year to discuss high school kids — OPRF and Fenwick — buying parking permits on Oak Park streets. The village has created a credible plan that has eased traffic congestion and confusion. But the village persists in charging non-Oak Parkers a jacked-up fee for a permit. That even includes River Forest kids attending their own high school. This is a ridiculous battleground and the village should be content with extorting one fair fee from all students.