I strongly urge the village board to support the Visitors Center’s move to 1010 Lake. [Oak Park Visitors Center finds itself in limbo, News, July 29] Kiosks are a great idea for farther parts of the village, but no kiosk can replace a human being who can tell you about our community and answer questions. I have used such visitor desks so many times when I’ve traveled, and they have really affected the way I feel about the community and enhanced my visit. On the rare occasions where only a kiosk was available, I have been very disappointed.
The Visitors Bureau and Visitors Center also provide other important services. They host Oak Park Festival Theater’s opening receptions, and the bathrooms are important. If they are not going to be replaced, then the village should contribute to and speed up the planned process of replacing the Austin Gardens garage with a building that includes bathrooms.
Even though the plans are for the building to house a nature center and Festival Theatre activities, I could see the Visitors Center moving in there as well. Then the rent support for 1010 would hopefully just be for a few years. Maybe by then a more appropriate tenant than a beauty supply place will be found for such a prominent corner in the village.
President, Oak Park Festival Theatre Board of Directors
I have worked with Rich Carollo and his staff on several village-wide special events in the past. Their flexibility, organization, hard work and common-sense approach to problem solving – and getting a load of businesses, volunteers and village workers to pull together as a team and get things done – have always impressed me. If you’ve ever volunteered or been involved in a village-wide event, you know how incredibly difficult that can be.
Whether or not a gift shop is needed is not really the issue – if Oak Park is serious about tourism and trying to attract tourism dollars to the village, then we need more than a few unmanned info kiosks to do it. The Oak Park Visitors Center and its staff provide a really valuable service to tourists in the village – not only giving directions or selling souvenirs, but recommending local restaurants and places to stay, as well as pointing people to other attractions or areas the usual Frank Lloyd Wright tourist might have missed, such as Pleasant Home, the galleries on Harrison Street or the Farmers’ Market.
Oak Parkers are kidding themselves if they think tourists are going to go off the beaten path on their own to find these things. I think they need the village’s support – not a higher rent. Right now the village has empty properties it is getting no rent money for – maybe they should realize that letting the Visitors Bureau have a reduced rent will benefit the village as a whole in more ways than one.
Submitted to WednesdayJournalOnline.com