Here's to self-interest in Downtown Oak Park

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DAN HALEY

There is definitely a "last one standing" aspect to political process in Oak Park. Simply put, if the process drags out long enough, the most passionate people will win. They will have logged the most hours sitting on their butts at interminable meetings, captured the most inches of newsprint in the letters column, made the most phone calls to worn down public officials.

Right now that process is in grinding mode in Downtown Oak Park where some confusing?#34;at least, to me?#34;series of meetings continues into the fall.

The group is trying to figure out the future of the so-called Superblock. Basically that's the piece of downtown between Lake Street and North Boulevard and Harlem and Marion. Three issues here: Think Taxman Corporation (it owns the Shops of Downtown Oak Park?#34;Gap, Old Navy, etc., the Colt building which is big enough to front both Lake and Westgate, and a hideous, I think most everyone agrees on that, office building perfectly perched on Westgate in the direct center of everything on the block. Think faux Tudor office buildings. To my amazement?#34;because I disdain faux Tudor office buildings I'm sure?#34;the preservationists have rallied to save these buildings. And they're going to. What purposeful commercial use they will be put to will be left to those more creative than me. Think village owned. The village basically owns what Taxman doesn't on the Superblock. They paid a lot of money to buy several parcels. Never had a plan for what to do with it. Was never open, back when it would have made sense, to a public process to make a plan. Explains why we are in this silly mess today.

This all overlays the same charge as the highly compensated Crandall Arambula consulting firm undertook a year ago. They had a process, a lot of open meetings and pretty fair turnout. Had the disadvantage of having the village board which hired them turned out of office last April. Made their plan suspect, I'd say. Though it was a pretty good plan. Still a good plan. Maybe needs a few political adjustments, but a pretty good plan.

So now we have more process, and last week, a lament in our letters pages from Christine Vernon, a woman I have known and admired for, shockingly I'd say, decades. Vernon is frustrated that the new process, invented by the people she helped put in office, is still being dominated by the self-interested.

That would go to the "last one standing" theory. If you have your life's work tied to downtown Oak Park, you just may be more motivated to spend summer Tuesday nights in airless rooms explaining "put-call" agreements than the average citizen.

hristine, don't blame those you call self-interested. Blame those who are non-interested. Further, don't be so suspicious of self-interest. In many of the people you referred to in your letter, their self-interest isn't so different than your interest. When and why Mike Fox became the poster boy for self-interest is beyond me. The current president of the Downtown association and the head of R.P. Fox and Associates, a major retail landlord in Oak Park, Fox takes some thrashing from Vernon for his alleged statement that his firm can afford to leave a storefront open until the right tenant comes along. Christine, that's really a good thing. And take a minute and look at the Fox buildings in Downtown. They are filled with the strongest, independently-owned retailers we boast of downtown.

Self-interest is not synonymous with self-dealing. And after two years of overdue planning in downtown, it is time for the village board to wrap it up this fall and make the decisions they will have to live by.

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