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.