A bank located on the top floor of a prime retail spot along Oak Park Avenue wants to move downstairs to a vacant store space, and neighborhood businesses are opposed.
Omni Bank, located on the third floor of 129 N. Oak Park Ave., wants to take over about half the 1,811-square-foot spot, previously occupied by Camille et Famille until last August.
The bank wants to make the move in order to add automated teller machines, a night depository and customer services. The bank has an agreement for right of first refusal of the space if it became available, said Kevin Alexander, an attorney representing Omni.
“They’re ready to go, and there wouldn’t be a remaining vacant space for a long period that would become an eyesore,” he said.
Jim Solnes, partner of Scoville Square Associates, pointed to numerous empty spaces on the avenue.
“Realistically, the demand for retails space has not been showing,” he said.
However, members of the Avenue Business Association and neighboring business owners argue the bank would not be in keeping with the district character focus. Zoning regulations for storefronts in the area call for entertainment, retail and restaurants, they argue.
“The board of directors of the Avenue, as well as several of our members who are here tonight, are vehemently opposed to any bank being allowed to rent any portion of what we consider to be a prime retail space on the Avenue,” said Dan Haley, president of the association and publisher of Wednesday Journal.
“We know how important it is that, when we lose retail space, and other retailers, how it affects our business,” said Jim August, of Cafe Le Coq. “I’d like to stay in Oak Park as long as I possibly can, and I have no plans to move, but I also don’t want to be the last store standing.”
Omni is asking for a special-use permit for the space. The village board referred the request to the plan commission, which will make a recommendation for the board to vote on, likely in late November or early December.
Greening Oak Park
If Oak Park wants to be a beacon of green practices and sustainability, it needs to find a signature project.
That’s just one of the findings in a long-awaited environmental action plan, created by the Environment & Energy Commission (EEC) and presented to the village board Monday.
One suggestion is to create a “tremendous” bike program in the village similar to Chicago’s, said Ed Malone, chair of the EEC. Another idea was initiating an energy project to take Oak Park “off the grid.”
Other recommendations included hiring a sustainability coordinator to specifically oversee the issue in the community and also adopting an ordinance to reduce diesel fumes.
“We need to start by asking ourselves what exactly we mean by sustainability,” said Trustee Jon Hale. “Is it a concept that we should limit to the realm of social and environmental issues, or is it something that can and should be bigger than that?
“To me, a sustainable community initiative should not only seek to enhance the environmental health of the community, but also the social fabric and economic strength of the community,” Hale said.