The Oak Park Public Library is pulling back on the idea of having a café or restaurant in its empty lobby space. Instead, it is considering teaming up with the local tourism organization to fill the void, at least temporarily.

Buzz Café abandoned the satellite space just inside the main library’s entrance this past January. Since then, it has been sitting vacant as the library mulled over various possibilities. The library’s board heard five presentations from different groups, including West Suburban PADS. However, the library decided a few weeks ago that those proposals didn’t make sense financially, said Dee Leonard, library board president.

“We thought the better deal would be to wait, instead of just rushing into something and just putting a café in there just to have a café in there,” she said. “We don’t want something that’s going to be closed in a year.”

The library plans to take the paper out of the café space’s window and display some books to make it look nicer. In the current economy, the library isn’t interested in subsidizing a restaurant or café, Leonard said.

With a new building eventually coming to the corner of Lake and Forest, the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau needs a new home for its Visitors Center. The group eyed the space at the library last week. Although it would represent a huge decrease in size-from 5,000 square feet to 700-it might work as a temporary solution, says President Rich Carollo.

“It’s significantly less space than we have now, but we’re going to have to be a little flexible,” he said. “There are not a lot of options for us, to be honest.”

The bureau, which promotes tourism in Oak Park and the surrounding area, is facing cuts from the state and the village. Market rate for retail space downtown is too expensive for the non-profit, and there are no village-owned properties to house the Visitors Center temporarily.

The bureau has talked to the village about allotting a space in the new Forest and Lake development for the Visitors Center. However, no specific plans are in place. Either way, they’d need a temporary space after the building is razed.

“There’s a very real possibility the Visitors Center will cease to operate,” Carollo said. “That’s one of the possibilities and one of the realities of all this.”

The Friends of the Oak Park Public Library have informally tossed around the idea of running the café space too. However, no plans have been presented to the library board or the Friends’ board, said President Steve Kirshenbaum.

“It’s just an idea kind of floating in the wind,” he said.

-Marty Stempniak

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