Are you thankful this Thanksgiving for Marion Street? Maybe it’s too early to tell. By the end of December, we should have a better idea. But maybe you’re thankful they’re (mostly) finished by Thanksgiving. Surely the merchants are. It’s been a long six months.

But it’s new. It might spark business downtown. Hey, it’s a development.

Are you thankful for development? Oak Park and River Forest have seen a lot of it the last decade, maybe more than you realize. And there’s plenty more in the works. Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard, Home Avenue and South Boulevard, Lake Street and Forest Avenue. Someday there might even be a Whiteco (and Trader Joe’s)-clearly something is going vertical at Harlem and Ontario.

Which developments are you thankful for? Whether you’re pro-development or anti-development, surely everyone is thankful for some of the development over the past 10 years or so.

We wondered because our Top 10 Year in Review issue is coming up on Dec. 26, so we thought we’d ask, What are your favorite developments? Let us know by e-mail (ktrainor

Having trouble thinking of them? Here’s a list to refresh your memory:Oak Park Hospital Professional Office Building: Boy, that was a donnybrook. Whiteco may have eclipsed its intensity in recent years, but in 1999, that was the big fight. It launched “The Development Era” in Oak Park, characterized by an alphabet soup of neighborhood opposition group acronyms that continues to this day.Taxmania: There was significant development, of course, even before that brouhaha. In the mid-1990s, Seymour Taxman pretty much had his way with Oak Park (Shops of Downtown Oak Park, River Forest Town Center). Then came a second round with River Forest Town Center II, which included tearing down one large condo building and constructing a new one just to the west. Are you thankful for The Gap, Old Navy, Pier One, Caribou Coffee, TGIF? Do you give thanks for Whole Foods, Boston Market, Panera, Linens N Things, Talbot’s, and a new Starbucks that actually has room for tables? Then give thanks for Seymour Taxman.Taxmania II: Remember the great Tasty Dog hot-dogging of the early 2000s? Man the barricades! The village had to cut a deal and Taxman’s architect, Joe Antunovich, created a new upscale version of Tasty Dog across the street, which, of course, then got the neighbors on that side of Lake Street all riled up. Meanwhile, the corner of Euclid and Lake was transformed by several residential developments and some new retail. Are you thankful for Jimmy Johns? The development also led to the construction of a new multi-story parking garage just east of Oak Park Avenue. Do you use it when you shop in The Avenue business district? Are you thankful for it?OPRF transformed: The high school has been a busy-and expanding-campus of late. First they fought off the village and bought the block to the south of the fieldhouse across Lake Street, razed the old car dealership and put down artificial turf for what they call “The South Fields.” Suddenly OPRF sports teams didn’t have to be bussed to practice elsewhere. In fact, the fields seem to have become the field hockey headquarters for the entire Chicago metropolitan area, not to mention serving as a host for the soccer venue of the Gay Games. The 80-year-old football stadium also underwent a major rehab plus artificial turf, but it wasn’t a slam dunk. For awhile it was touch-and-go whether the venerable brick edifice would be preserved or torn down for unsightly aluminum bleachers. That’s nothing, however, compared to the rabid opposition to lighting the stadium, which may still happen unless the surrounding NIMBYs get their way.

Meanwhile, a new parking garage (aka The Garage Majal) was built by the village adjacent to the fieldhouse, which benefits faculty and Farmers’ Market shoppers alike. There was plenty of opposition to that, too. Most people seem to agree it’s been a plus, but no one, it appears, is actually paying to use it, generating an upkeep deficit.Multimodal transportation: The Green Line was shut down in the early ’90s for an extensive track rehab, which led to a bonus: A completely redone Metra and CTA station between Harlem and Marion, with a really, really long accessibility ramp, and topped off with the Millennium Clock tower that provides a mini-landmark for the area and occasionally runs on time. There was also room for a few shopkeepers inside the main entrance. It even has a high-falutin’ name like Multimodal Transportation Center, which no one ever remembers. Thankful?Skateboards, dog runs and coal tar: The skate park and basketball courts at Stevenson Park roused a surprising amount of anguish, considering the fact that hardly anyone lives nearby. The machinations and squabbling with the village led to the park district breaking away as a governmental entity and passing a referendum to address long-delayed maintenance issues on all its holdings. But the skate park finally got built, and seems frequently frequented.

Meanwhile, after years of “Don’t leash, Don’t tell,” dogowners got a fenced and more structured dog park in Ridgeland Common. The pools also got an upgrade, and most of the parks are being rehabbed. And looming over all is the question of whether to replace the aging ice rink and pool complex.

But the biggest development in park history will always be the remediation of Barrie Park. Driving past the new, treeless, carefully cleansed recreational space today with its exceedingly steep snow hill, you’d never guess how much pure agony this village (and the utilities) went through to get to this point. Certainly everyone’s thankful that’s over.

Priory priorities: In River Forest, the Dominicans sold off a good portion of the Priory property, which resulted mostly in McMansions, but the River Forest Park District also got a nice new park out of it. In addition to Priory Park, the park district went through a long, drawn-out, but ultimately successful renovation of Keystone Park, complete with lights, in spite of a testy battle with surrounding neighbors.Whiteco: The granddaddy of ’em all. This one almost overshadows the Stankus Hole debacle. But work has actually started. We aren’t holding our breath, but if Trader Joe’s ever actually opens there, we may all be thankful … someday.RSC building: First they tried to put a health club in Town Center II, but that didn’t fly. Then the idea moved to Whiteco, but that didn’t work out either. It finally happened on upper floors of the RSC building (aka the 1120 Club) which also gave us Bar Louie’s and Lane Bryant. A lot of us would be thankful if the appended, historic Drechsler building ever gets occupied.Dramatic Dominicans: Since changing their name from Rosary College to Dominican University 10 years ago, the once-sleepy college has grown dramatically. First a new dorm building, then a new parking garage and entrance off Thatcher (which riled the Forest Preserve preservationists), and most recently Parmer Hall, the new science building. They also took over the old Priory for their School of Social Work. President Donna Carroll has more hard hats in her office from groundbreakings than you can shake a stick at.

The other Dominican institutions, Trinity and Fenwick high schools, added beautiful new gyms, and Fenwick is in the midst of putting on still another addition.

And while we’re on the subject of universities, Concordia built a multimillion-dollar early childhood center, thanks to the generosity of Pampered Chef founder Doris Christopher.Libraries and Middle Schools: Not everyone was in favor (which goes without saying), but taxpayers approved a $30 million new main library (Maze and Dole branches were also redone), and two new middle schools for even bigger bucks. The library’s exterior is often admired. The middle school exteriors are not.Hemingway Birth Home, Unity Temple: Imagine that, a reason to be thankful for George Ryan, who, with the assistance of local legislators, chanelled big bucks to the Hemingway Foundation and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation for preservation of two important landmarks.Schiesstown: John Schiess has been the driving force behind more development in Oak Park than even Seymour Taxman, the largest being the Opera Club, at South Boulevard and Marion Street, which replaced the old Mar-Lac Banquet Hall.Tower of horsepower: The Volvo Tower, visible from the Eisenhower Expressway, seven cars stacked vertically, encased in glass and lit up at night, stands as a testament to retaining large sales-tax-generating businesses. The dealership, which moved from Madison Street, also occupied a long-dormant piece of property at Harlem and Garfield that the village had been trying to develop for years. And just to the east, the U.S. Postal Service occupied the rest of that land, building a brand new and much larger South Branch Post Office.The Village of Oak Park entered the multimillion-dollar derby with the completion of the new Public Works building. Ribbon-cutting was this past weekend.

Take your pick

Which of the following developments is your favorite? To cast your vote, e-mail, voice-mail 708/613-3310, fax 708/524-0447, or clip this box and mail it to Wednesday Journal, c/o LifeLines, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park 60302. We’ll tell you the results in our Top 10/Year in Review issue, Dec. 26.

• River Forest Town Center I

• Shops of Downtown Oak Park

• Metra/CTA Multimodal Station (with the
Millennium Clock Tower)

• Oak Park Hospital Professional Office Building

• New, more upscale Tasty Dog

• Taxman condos at Euclid and Lake with retail (Jimmy John’s, Starbucks, etc.)

• Avenue Parking Garage

• OPRF Parking Garage

• OPRF South Fields

• Renovated OPRF Stadium (with or without lights)

• Stevenson Skate (and B-Ball) Park

• River Forest Town Center II

• Barrie Park remediation and renovation

• Ridgeland Common Dog Park

• Priory Park in River Forest

• Renovated Keystone Park in River Forest

• Whiteco

• RSC Building (1120 Lake with Bar Louie, Lane
Bryant and health club)

• Dominican campus expansion (dorm, garage, science building)

• Concordia’s Christopher Early Childhood Center

• New Oak Park Public Library, main branch

• Renovated and expanded Maze and Dole branch libraries

• Two new District 97 middle schools

• Renovated Hemingway Birth Home and Unity Temple

• Opera Club and sundry other Schiess residential

• Volvo dealership (with tower) at Harlem and Garfield

• South Branch Post Office on Garfield, just east of Volvo

• New Village of Oak Park Public Works Building

• Village Players renovation

• Belmont Village assisted living center

• New West Sub ER building (still to come)

• New (and improved?) Marion Street (formerly the mall)

• Other:

Other (welcome?) additions:

• West Suburban Hospital’s controversial ER which broke ground last week.

• Village Players, a new facade and interior

• Brick streets

• Belmont Village, the latest option for assisted senior living

• Prairie-style redos of McDonald’s and Wendy’s on Madison Street

• The Carleton Hotel expanding into the renovated Plaza Hotel and turning it into a ballroom

• Plenty of residential condo and rental buildings (see sidebar for a partial list)

What have we forgotten? Let us know what (if any) developments you’re most thankful for.
-Ken Trainor

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