Can Madison still be a star performer?

Opinion: Columns

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John Murtagh

An advertisement sponsored by Oak Park Development Corporation last year stated, "Madison Street is the heart of Oak Park's commercial activities. This district offers just about everything from business card printing and car maintenance to salon services." Are business card printing, car maintenance, and salon services what Madison is all about? Unfortunately, yes. Despite the millions of dollars spent on Madison Street in the last 18 years, Madison is not an Oak Park star.

The Madison issue is coming before the board again in July. What will the village propose this round with $7-11 million left in the TIF bucket? There is not enough money to do the full Madison Diet. There has been talk about a mini-Madison Diet, but it has not been vetted at all. Bicycle paths are still being considered, but that is unlikely to fulfill the original Plan 90 goal, increasing village revenue. Using the $7-11 million on some form of streetscaping has been considered.

The question that needs asking is: Do streetscape improvements inspire shopping on a street that is defined by aged and poorly-maintained commercial buildings, vacant parking lots, and a potpourri of retail business space? For that matter, would Madison with bike lanes attract shoppers? Madison needs a robust and dynamic vision more than it needs a refurbishment.

During the 1970s and '80s most of the auto businesses that lined Madison Street left the village. The exodus resulted in a severe property and sales tax revenue decline for the village. That led to an ordinance creating a Madison TIF in 1995 and a steady stream of development funding for 18 years. The ordinance gave no indication that a vision or strategy was guiding the spending of the TIF funds. The early years saw property purchases by the village, streetscaping, the addition of green space separating east and west traffic. There was action, but little that produced revenue for the village.

In 2005, the village launched the Madison Corridor Vision and Implementation Plan. Despite seeking a common theme, the resulting vision wound up being a combination of historic significance, commercial, retail, housing, and a bit of industrial. Along the way, increased retail became the featured goal and led to a big-box initiative. (Target, Best Buy, etc.) The initiative failed. The recession hit in 2008, money became tight for Madison Street, little was done, and the TIF ran out in 2011.

The reality is that the village had no vision that could be used as a base for a plan with consistency and continuity throughout the TIF's existence. Instead the Madison Plan became a series of studies, and incremental projects that were far from thematic.

It would be easy to say, "Let's just use the $7-11 million to spruce up Madison, close the TIF, and move on." But that will not work. It would be fiscally irresponsible to walk away from Madison Street's potential as a general fund revenue source. When a high-potential project fails, the first step to recovery is a triage to determine what caused the failure. The second step is to start the project again. Perhaps, the board's approach should be putting the $7-11 million on ice while it prepares the Madison vision.

Perhaps Madison can still be a star.

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 7:03 PM

O'Hare is a major airport with International flights going in and out all day long. International travelers with just a stopover will be headed immediately for the outlet mall. Europeans and Asians find that the weak dollar creates major bargains. Asians and South Americans love finding product they can't get at home. O'Hare is also an easy in-and-out (and return) airports in the states. The outlet opportunity is unique to O'Hare, though I still believe that on a smaller scale outlets could work on Madison

Village Voice  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 5:54 PM

Interesting alt-progress. Though the article states the mall will rely heavily on Rosemont's proximity to O'Hare and its 76 million yearly passengers. There will even be shuttle busses to/from ORD and a new exit ramp from the TriState. It's ironic that while Oak Park may claim a central location, our village leaders seem to be doing everything in their power make it the transportation bottleneck of the region, firmly opposing Ike expansion and even seriously talking about narrowing Madison St.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 4:05 PM

Village Voice - Madison is a low value street. Purchase or rental is well below the OP & RF norm. That can be very attractive to developers (gov't or private) as a major success on a low cost land is a gold rush..


Posted: July 2nd, 2013 4:05 PM

Rosemont's upscale outlet mall to open Aug. 1.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 4:00 PM

Hi Done - You are on the mark on both the need for a "Big" vision and the money to accomplish it. Right now the village has neither. Ultimately, they will have to do something about Madison whether it is five or twenty years from now. You can't let a big piece of valuable land producing a minimal amount of tax income. Consider how much tax revenue was lost in the 19 years of Madison Tif - the number is millions -- lots of them. The village has no real development money, so they went to Fed seeking Tiger Grant money for Lake. Grant money is not the only way to go. Their are developers that love big projects and are ready to put up big money if you have a big idea. There is a big difference between Tif's and private money. Developers who put up real cash want a precision project with a large ROI, and a the financial discipline to not wander from the vision/plan. Tif's are sink holes when not monitored assertively. The village has between 7-11M left in the Madison Tif. The last plan discussed was a streetscaping and a bike lane. I don 't see either driving revenue to the general fund with Madison lacking a strong business environment. That is, it's lipstick on a pig. Money for Madison will be the high priority some day. Right now the priority for the board should be to start molding a vision. Before spending 7-11M, we need to do some creative thinking.

Village Voice  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 3:55 PM

JBM: lf we need to start speculating how a prospective retailer would need to reconfigure the business model of an outlet store to conform to Madison Street, then it's probably just an idle pipe dream. Part of the outlet model is dirt cheap real estate (another reason for the remote locations), which is precluded by our property taxes if not land values. A high end 2nd hand shop might work better, but I don't think even the tepid retail atmosphere of downtown OP could support that right now.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 2:46 PM

"Madison needs a robust and dynamic vision more than it needs a refurbishment." It does need a refurbishment - and it needs a direction of some kind which is going to take tens of millions of dollars to be able to make it even remotely close to any of the cities listed. Do we have that kind of money? And can the taxpayers afford to front these costs until tax revenue can be generated? I believe we have a $70M Colt project on the boards that will need to be taxpayer subsidized.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 1:50 PM

A good place to see multiple retail that has a huge range is LaGrange Road in LaGrange. There is no store that would be considered an anchor though there are some large retail business there. It seems to me that their vision was to create a street to stroll with lots of restaurants, ice cream stores, etc. with a large variety on non-food retail intertwined. The street has become a destination. If you go there, BQ is an excellent rib spot with reasonable prices.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 1:44 PM

I have been to Freeport and it is unique. The point made was that it is incorporated into a small city. Haven't been there in 15 years or so; but it was booming even then. All outlet on Madison probably won't work but a form of outlet that consolidates many products and brands in one site might. There are several sites on Madison that have the space to do some real creative multi-retail. The old Volvo dealer site (almost Aldi's) is one. We are collecting an interesting list of opportunities. No lack of creativity in OP.


Posted: July 2nd, 2013 1:41 PM

@Village Voice -- what department stores? The point is that outlets have replaced department stores. The outlets are barely underpricing anymore.

Village Voice  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 1:08 PM

It shoud be food for thought that two developers are tussling to build an athletic facility on the old Hines site just up Madison in RF, while here in OP we are furiously plasticizing our parks on the taxpayers' nickel to placate soccer parents.

Village Voice  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 12:59 PM

alt: If only it were that easy. Freeport also happens to be home to a $1billion company (LL Bean). Also, I'm pretty sure the reason outlet malls are located in the middle of nowhere is to avoid underselling department stores which carry the same lines in metro areas.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 12:47 PM

All-Progress - neat idea!


Posted: July 2nd, 2013 10:56 AM

I recommend that Oak Park developers look to Freeport Maine. Freeport is a bustling outlet mall that has melded smoothly into the existing town. I don't believe Marshall Field's or anything like it is ever coming back. People drive two hours to get to an outlet mall. We need to make it easy for outlet retailers to rebuild Madison Street.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 10:31 AM

Dave - Heavy Horse would be perfect for Madison. Not sure where we get the water, but that's just a detail!

Dave Coulter  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 7:42 AM

JBM, thanks for the background re: Madison in Forest Pk. Interesting! I say plunk down some huge sculpture, like this:

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2013 1:04 AM

Madison Street offers Oak Park a unique opportunity to establish an exciting destination for residents and visitors. So much attention has been focused on Downtown Oak Park and Lake St that other business districts seem to have been shortchanged while planning and development appears somewhat shortsighted. There have been some great suggestions and ideas floated by the folks posting comments and all seem to agree that the Village and our trustees need to realize that the area has real potential. Let's dust off the studies the board has commissioned and take a new look at what's actually been proposed. It's vital that business owners, neighbors and residents be encouraged to participate in the process. Jump at the chance!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 10:24 PM

Dave Coulter - Forest Park had and has one great advantage over OP on the success of retail on Madison. They restored, refurbished and re-energized a street that had always been the city's downtown. That is; it was similar to Lake in OP. Madison was never a major shopping center. It was a commercial street with some retail businesses that fulfilled the daily shopping (pre-multi-car families) of nearby residents. Restoring, refurbishing, and re-energizing Madison needs a vision of a new street that will thrill people from a wide range of communities that seek an experience; not just a retail shopping stop.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 10:10 PM

Have you ever been to Portland, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Berkeley, Seattle, Vancouver, Ann Arbor, Cambridge, Alexandria, or Evanston? They're all cities that invite all cultures, all forms of art, and welcome diverse and fun people to join the building of a dream. They are eclectic cities. Most of them are old cities that had to reconstruct their view of their city after their "cash flow" businesses closed or departed for the suburbs. They changed commercial districts into exciting, tourist attracting, centers of commerce and novelty. They converted fish markets, slaughter houses, grain elevators, and tenements into districts with high end retail, entertainment, art, restaurants. All made their streets an experience rather than just an array of stores. They did not change everything in their city ?" far from it. They found a space that could be used to fulfill the desires of the customers while pumping money into their general funds. What did it take? A vision filled with a sustainability opportunity ?" old buildings and streets reborn. It took creativity. They sought out creative people in government, business, and the community to envision something completely different than the standard approach to development. They encouraged risk takers to join the effort. The key to their success was the guts to take on projects that many people criticized. There are a lot of great ideas already appearing on WJ Comments. Let's have more. Let's keep considering the answer to the question, "Can Madison still be a star performer?"

Dave Coulter  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 7:01 PM

Look at what Forest Park did to their stretch of Madison Street. Also, how many "vibrant shopping districts" can a town have? Consumerism has it's limits. I agree with muntz to look at other ideas that might be out there...

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 6:55 PM

Excellent suggestions!


Posted: July 1st, 2013 3:22 PM

I agree that Madison needs a clear and concise vision. Perhaps Madison's future does not lie in retail. Maybe Madison is a means to bolster the surrounding retail sectors by bringing increased foot traffic to the village thru innovative commercial/industrial land use. Partnerships with Concordia/Dominican or other nearby institutions? Research facilities? Green industries? These types of endeavors could increase demand for residential and commercial overall.


Posted: July 1st, 2013 2:21 PM

Thinking outside the box may have to include the Village rethinking its commitment to historic preservation. Case in point; the Foley Rice Cadillac building. Now owned by US Bank they can and apparently have filed/received property assessment abatements resulting in the Village and other taxing bodies receiving significantly less revenue from this site. And, for what? When does the need for property tax revenue exceed the desire to preserve an obsolete building?

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 1:34 PM

I've advocated that Madison St. be considered for development as a live theater and entertainment district.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 12:20 PM

MADISON STREET - In most cases, I agree that that the village does not use the knowledge and experience of the business community in planning and executing development projects enough, BUT I do not think the business involvement to date has necessarily been an asset. This is particularly true in the exection of the Madison TIF. Following is a statement from the Madison Street Business Association MSBA) website. "For 64 years the Madison Street Business Association (MSBA) has been the leading advocate for business and property owners along the Madison Street Corridor. In this role, the association has acted to strengthen and enhance the corridor. The future promises great opportunity for growth and redevelopment for Madison Street and the need for a strong, involved business association has never been greater. MSBA Mission - Madison Street Business Association's purpose is to foster the commercial and economic well-being of Madison Street by encouraging and facilitating the maintenance and expansion of the vibrant mix of commercial and residential properties along the corridor." Throughout the TIF, MSBA was fully involved with the village in developing and executing Madison Street's renaissance. A committee made up of business owners or reps, citizens, and village employees reviewed and approved plans for submission to the board. MSBA was a partner with the village in the development. It had continuous communications with all levels of OP Gov't. MSBA was a partner in any success or failure that took place. The role of Independent business association in development should be reviewed by the board to ensure that the taxpayers are getting value, before jumping into discussion on how to create a more dynamic relationship. There needs to be assurance that the village and association are collaborative in a manner that is NOT detrimental to the taxpayers of OP.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2013 8:08 AM

Has anyone considered letting the businesses and residents along Madison St get together and present a plan to the board? We might all be amazed at the quality of thought and the innovative ideas they propose. It is their home and they surely want the best in both success and security. Why is it that the expert is always some guy 50 miles from home with a brief case and a cell phone? My thought about experts is "X" is the unknown quantity and "SPERT" is a drip under pressure!

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