Dear President Pope and Trustees,
Over the past year, I have been hearing individual members of the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees state that Main Street must be “brought in” to Downtown Oak Park. As the former Main Street manager for Downtown Elmhurst, I feel that I have some experience with Main Street’s Four-Point approach. I had been active in the Illinois Main Street program for over five years.
The program is preservation-based, and grass-roots driven. Downtown revitalization is organized around four areas: organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring. The Downtown Oak Park organization has been utilizing the same basic structure for many years as far as I can determine. Below is a list of how our initiatives compare to Main Street’s Four Point approach:
Main Street’s “Organization” is DTOP’s “Membership”
Our members consist of our business and property owners who are very active in board and committee work. Our district is a special service area and is self-taxing, and is therefore essentially self-sufficient.
Main Street’s “Promotion” is DTOP’s “Marketing/Promotion/Special Events”
We have an adequate operating budget and staff to stage over 25 events per year, as well as catalogs, directories, a website, co-op advertising opportunities for our businesses, and too much more than can be mentioned here.
Main Street’s “Design” is DTOP’s “Grounds”
We have a full-time maintenance person who cleans the sidewalks daily. We also plant flowers, remove snow, light the trees for the holidays, and fund an awning replacement program. The DTOP organization is also very involved in downtown planning endeavors. It is our goal to work with the village to encourage a pedestrian-oriented downtown, capitalizing on our resources and encouraging appropriate new construction.
Main Street’s “Economic Restructuring” is DTOP’s “Recruitment/Retention”
DTOP works closely with current business owners with expansion plans and marketing efforts, and also with future merchants on grants, marketing, and easing into their new locations. We have also recently partnered with the Oak Park Development Corporation and hired a professional retail recruiter who will work closely with building owners and DTOP to achieve a viable retail mix. We are helping our individual properties be economically productive, and together they will boost the profitability of the entire district.
The Village of Oak Park’s Historic Preservation Commission is beginning to meet with our organization to discuss designation of historic downtown properties.
The Crandall Arambula Downtown Master Plan and the Superblock Steering Committee plans have been held up for the last 18 months pending further studies. In the meantime, inappropriate development has already occurred, parking has been lost, and frankly, we are concerned that any further exploratory studies will result in more vacancies. We are doubtful that a protracted assessment of our district from yet another consultant will offer either our business district or the community any further insight or opportunities.
Our program and approach has been outlined above. We are a strong, sustainable and sophisticated organization. We are committed to the revitalization of our central business district. We look forward to working with the community toward the goal of a vibrant and viable downtown. Our board of directors welcomes an open discussion with the trustees about our work.
And, just for the record, Downtown Oak Park is already a National Main Street Center network member.
Pat Zubak is the executive director of the Downtown Oak Park business association.