Village of Oak Park development director Mike Chen will be leaving his post in mid-August to take a position in the City of Tampa, Fla. He will be joined by his wife, Donna Ogdon-Chen, who has served as director of the Downtown Oak Park business association for the last seven years.
Chen has overseen village government's economic development efforts for over five years. During his tenure, Chen has dealt with multiple controversial developments, including the embattled Whiteco project now planned for Harlem and Ontario.
He has been hired on as Director of Urban Development in Tampa, a city of over 300,000 people.
Chen said Monday he decided to leave Oak Park because it was an excellent career opportunity, and, when asked, said the move has nothing to do with the village's changing political climate.
"This is not politics. I don't think anybody has to explain that the City of Tampa is a first-tier U.S. city. This is an enormous opportunity for me," he said.
Chen said he's enjoyed working the people in Oak Park during his time at village hall. "I can certainly understand how people have formed long-term attachments to this community. It's truly exceptional," he said. "I've had so many people in such a wide variety of ways who have supported what I've tried to do here."
However, Chen said that same strong attachment to the community has also been "the source of some challenges."
"People do have ownership of this wonderful community, and are very concerned as changes are proposed," he said. "They're very actively involved. It's the exact thing that so great and wonderful, but also the same thing that causes challenges."
Ogdon-Chen, who has been with DTOP for 14 years, called leaving Oak Park, "very bittersweet."
"That word is the only thing that comes to mind. This has been my life, my passion. I've loved people worked with, loved my job. It's hard to leave," she said. "This is a big opportunity for Mike. I'm really proud of him."
Ogdon-Chen said while the best part of her job has been the people she's worked with, the most difficult part was not being able to speak about development issues downtown, due to her relationship with Chen.
"I had to pull back on economic development issues. As a Downtown Oak Park spokesperson, there were some people who were against projects because Mike was involved. They used my personal relationship with him against me," she said. "Given the passion I have for what I do, it was hard to sit back and be quiet."
Ogdon-Chen's last day will be Aug. 12. She said Tuesday morning that the DTOP board has decided to hire Patricia Zubak, an Oak Park resident who formerly served as the director of the Elmhurst City Center, as an interim executive director. Ogdon-Chen said Zubak will serve as director through to the end of the year.