Is Oak Park ready to start building again?

Officials say deals could be reached on two major downtown sites by the end of 2011

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

A couple of years ago, Oak Park had grandiose plans in hand to reinvent two key pieces of the village's downtown. Those ideas have been in hibernation ever since because of the sluggish economy, but officials say Oak Park could jolt those talks back to life by the end of this year.

The projects in question were originally planned for parking lots at Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard, and Lake Street just east of Harlem. Oak Park held competitions approximately five years ago, trying to find developers to build on those sites. Officials say the economy may be perking up now, and an agreement with those developers may happen soon.

"There does seem to be some loosening of those financial restraints, so we are seeing more activity," Loretta Daly, business services manager for the village, told trustees on Monday. "The developers we are talking to have demonstrated an ability to survive through these changes, and they're continuing to demonstrate financial viability."

Chicago-based Morningside Equities Group was picked by the village in a competitive process in 2006 to reinvent the parking lot at the southeast corner of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard. They proposed an eight-story building with 96 condos and first-floor retail, but the project was delayed indefinitely in the spring of 2008, as the housing market crashed.

During a discussion of economic development in Downtown Oak Park on Monday, Village Planner Craig Failor said Oak Park continues to talk with Morningside behind the scenes. They've shifted their ideas and are now eyeing apartments while still proposing retail on the ground floor.

In a different competition, Oak Park picked another Chicago group, Clark Street Development, in 2008 to build on the former Colt building site, which is now a Lake Street parking lot. But Clark Street's partner in the project — Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities, which was to develop 196 apartments on the site — dropped out in early 2009.

Now, Failor said, Clark Street is considering a different proposal with only retail on the Colt site, which now includes a two-story office building that Oak Park recently bought at 1133 Westgate.

Failor and Daly told trustees that Oak Park continues to talk to Clark Street and Morningside privately, with the hope of reaching "term sheet" agreements by the end of the year that could eventually lead to a legally binding partnership between Oak Park and the two developers.

Afterward, Oak Park is planning to solicit alternate proposals for the Colt site, as it is required to do under tax increment financing laws.

The projects came up Monday night as part of a discussion of whether Oak Park needs to update its downtown master plan, a roadmap put together by a consultant in 2005, laying out how the village should reinvent its main shopping district.

The master plan identifies 26 projects that Oak Park can undertake in its downtown. Three of those have been finished thus far, including the village spending more than $6 million to spruce up the 100 block of North Marion with brick streets and bluestone sidewalks. With nine other projects under construction or consideration, Oak Park hopes it will have close to 50 percent of the master plan finished by 2015, Failor said.

Willis Johnson, owner of the Lake Theatre, and Downtown Oak Park Executive Director Pat Zubak said the village should be decking out Lake Street with decorative elements, to help link it with the business district on Oak Park Avenue.

"The highest priority at this point needs to be the streetscaping of Lake Street from Harlem to Euclid," Johnson said in a phone interview.

Johnson also spoke of concerns about parking in the village's downtown, with the garage at Lake and Forest shrinking down to 300 public parking spaces instead of 340, as part of a tower planned on the corner. (The downtown master plan originally envisioned 750 public parking spaces as part of the project.)

Trustee Ray Johnson, though, said he thinks Oak Park should focus more on getting people to bike and ride the train to its main shopping districts rather than building hundreds of new parking spots, as called for in the plan.

"I think we need to create some way to change the mindset of Oak Parkers to think about different ways of getting places and experiencing the downtown and all of Oak Park through different means," he said.

Reader Comments

18 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 11:19 PM

Ray, thanks for the reply but that is not the question I asked. To repeat: If Holly Court Parking has 30% vacancy during peak hours, does that reflect bad capacity planning or lower retail traffic?

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 12:48 PM

@ Mr. Murtagh: Sales Tax receipts were up in the VOP for 2010, despite the recession. The 1st floor vacancy rate prior to Boarder's bankruptcy was 5%. I would conclude that our shopkeepers (nearly 80% of whom are independent), are holding their own in more cases than not.

Silly  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 12:03 PM

Again murtagh is so off base. John, I think its time to clean your glasses. These are the Village leaders. Hello, anybody home? The election is OVER my friend. You seem to see the cup 1/2 empty once again. Did you grow up thinking everything is wrong in your world? The VMA is group that puts forth candidates for leadership. No more no less. To blame the elected leaders for being proactive and out in the community is misdirected and warped. Next thing you know, you wont wont them to be on TV6

john murtagh  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 11:46 AM

The WJ should charge the VMA for Adams1,000 advertisement post. I won't be there at the market. The event is a bit unsavory now that I find out the Board is using village events for their self-promotion. Nice to have the advantage of getting out the VMA message of Responsible Government Transparency free. This is not a civic event, it is a civic mugging.

Adam Salzman from Oak Park, IL   

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 10:41 AM

Anyone who would like to come and discuss the Master Plan, or any other related or unrelated issues should feel free to drop by the Farmer's Market tomorrow between 7:30 a.m. and noon. The Trustees will be manning a booth and taking any and all questions. Hope to see all commenters and otherwise interested citizens there.

Oak Park and Lake from Oak Park  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 9:59 AM

I've lived in Oak Park for over 20 years and DTOP has never been a shopping destination for me or anyone I know. It's always been a lot of high-end or niche stores and over-priced food, never mind the "no-park" mentality of Oak Park.

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 9:33 AM

Personally this "Master Plan" better attract some retail that people will want visit. Right now, there is nothing that makes me want to shop in Oak Park. I would rather do my business here, but drive elsewhere. Master Plan needs major overhaul!

Shop Local (I Wish) from OP  

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 5:32 AM

@Ray Johnson: I'll bike, or even walk to DTOP if there's a shop there that has what I need (I'd rather shop local) but I will never take the bus. Period. My concern is that there just aren't stores there that have what I need, so I have to drive elsewhere. Parking is part of the problem, but a thriving, relevant retail presence in DTOP is a bigger one (but I always go there when I need baked goods, expensive stationery,spices, chain clothing, etc.). How about an actual retail destination?

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2011 6:24 PM

Ray - If Holly Court Parking has 30% vacancy during peak hours, does that reflect bad capacity planning or lower retail traffic?

j.oakpark  

Posted: September 22nd, 2011 2:22 PM

I have never liked parking in holley court. I do like the open air lot in the space that used to be the colt building, and the lot between westgate and north blvd. the pay stations make it way easier to park, locally and in chicago.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2011 12:55 PM

I never said the Blue or Green Lines plus PACE or CTA bus service are the only way to traverse Oak Park, but that its an underutilized transportation mode. There is an opportunity to increase the utilization of public transportation for travel within Oak Park boundaries. In addition, there was a discussion which this story doesn't cover about the high vacancy rates within the parking facilities during off-peak times. Even during peak time, Holley Court has 30% of the spaces available.

Experience Through Different Means from OP  

Posted: September 22nd, 2011 5:34 AM

What the heck is Ray Johnson talking about? How would I ride a train from south OP to the central shopping district? Or, I guess that I'm supposed to bike there. Sorry, Ray, but I bike when I can, but drive when I must. And if there are no parking spaces in OP (or stores where I want to shop) I'll drive to N Riverside, Melrose Pk, Oakbrook...there are no shortage of options. What's in short supply in OP is common sense, and a reason to want to shop in our dwindling downtown.

Silly  

Posted: September 21st, 2011 8:41 AM

murtagh, The WHOLE market swayed. The short answer to your question is YES. The TIF brings in new tax dollars to am area that otherwise had none.

James Wenzbauer  

Posted: September 21st, 2011 8:40 AM

Crazy. Also, who would want to live across from the Metra/Green line not to mention on HARLEM!

scott  

Posted: September 21st, 2011 6:53 AM

I can't believe they would consider building additional condo's. In Oak Park alone, there are several examples of failed developments. I just don't get it. Bus' R Us, you are correct. I live there and tons of creeps. If they do build something, they better do something about the creeps...but they wont. That corner will never be nice...BRING ARBEY'S BACK!

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: September 20th, 2011 11:05 PM

Here is a simple "benchmark test from the 2005 Greater Downtown Plan document: "In the SHORT-TERM, the Village's effective use of TIF can be expected to stabilize and improve existing assessed values, which, in turn, provides for the potential annual distribution of Incremental Property Taxes to all taxing districts." Can the village state that the plan during the first seven years has met the benchmark. If not; the Downtown Plan needs a major review right now.

Roger of the North Shore from North Shore  

Posted: September 20th, 2011 10:41 PM

Bus R Us - The best comment I have ever read on this paper. I wish I could have have said this.

Bus' R Us  

Posted: September 20th, 2011 10:13 PM

Is it me, or are the creepiest people hanging around Harlem,South Blvd and Circle during the day. They all aren't getting on buses either. Do they come here to just hang around. Very strange.

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