I don't think it is any secret that what has turned around our downtown shopping district is the renewal that took place at the Lake Theatre a few years ago. However, retail success is a fragile thing. Customer buying habits and retail comfort levels are built over many years. Witness the work by Oak Park in the 1920s, 30s and 40s to build Harlem and Lake into the retail powerhouse it once was?#34;the largest shopping area west of the Loop. The long-term effort to build retail sales can quickly and effortlessly be eclipsed by inadvertently creating a climate that does not welcome the consumer. We saw this with the creation of the old Lake Street Mall when the added inconvenience of having to walk long distances to shop caused customers and retailers to desert Oak Park in droves. It took over 30 years for us to get that partially back. It is my concern that we are once again headed toward a declining retail direction with new downtown development.
After listening to testimony the other evening at the Zoning Board of Appeals the pressures for retail failure in our downtown district are imminent. As the JOURNAL related in its editorial several weeks ago the village will shortly be severely lacking in downtown parking. Parking availability and convenience is the sole source that makes shopping quick and easy for today's time-stressed and demanding consumer. With out that we are a retail nothing.
While the community anger and focus has been on the closing of the Bank One lot on Marion, a whole host of decisions by the village are coming to roost to destroy our downtown viability:
? There is an application pending at village hall to turn the upper floors of the old Marshall Fields building into a college. The sheer number of students they are contemplating will overwhelm the proposed Holley Court Garage expansion. The building owners are pretending to act very generous by deeding us a small parcel of land for one dollar to help build the new expansion of the Holley Court parking garage in exchange for the rights to park 100 cars there in perpetuity. The problem not only was that a promise they made to us quite sometime ago before a college was in the picture, but that we were the ones who gave Marshall Fields that same parcel of land for free back in the 1960s.
? Once again no one at village hall is looking out for our interests, no one has properly added up the modern parking demands from 200 Whiteco apartments, Trader Joe's, the second unnamed Whiteco retailer, the condo/health club on Lake street and now the college.
? There is virtually no extra parking available at Sy Taxman's over taxed parking lot behind Old Navy and The Gap. It was impossible for me to find a spot there on a recent Monday morning. And that's without any new development completed. The good news is that Sy may be the only developer never to mislead us about the lack of parking. He told us publicly that there wasn't enough before the project was built and he lived up to his word.
? Many people are already bypassing the Harlem/Lake intersection because of traffic jams. This diverts traffic into the single family neighborhoods.
? At the recent Wright Plus event the Holley Court Garage was effectively utilized as a staging area and to park many of the 3,500 people attending. This will not be possible next year.
If you agree with me that the Lake Theatre is what drives our downtown viability I would ask you to do a simple thing: park in what will be our only viable downtown garage on an evening and visit the theatre. Getting to the Lake from the garage has to be one of the least pleasant experiences around. Actually getting anywhere downtown from the Holley Court garage is not retail friendly. After leaving the garage you either have to walk down a dimly lit dark alley, past dumpsters, for a half block hike down a consistently filthy, debris and traffic filled Harlem Avenue to Lake or walk down a dimly lit dark alley, past very large dumpsters, to Marion and then to Lake. This is how most people coming to downtown in the future will experience our community.
So how are we going to solve this problem? Well unfortunately for us?#34;the local taxpayers?#34;we're going to have to create another parking garage and, in fact, the village is already planning a whopper. Another 500-600 cars on North Boulevard. In the two years it will take to create another parking garage we could well loose the goodwill of our current customer base.
In my opinion this situation is what's driving Taxman to demand the village get moving on his investments on Lake Street; they will be worth nothing without the infrastructure to park customers.
This means that the cost of the super dense Whiteco development, which is the major factor driving all this parking demand, isn't the mere $20 million dollars we discovered it would cost. It's another, larger, $9 million dollar parking garage as well.
I keep asking myself: Who wins in all this? All I know is that it's not us, but we're paying for it.