As an Oak Parker who’s lived along the Chicago Avenue corridor between Austin Boulevard and Ridgeland Avenue for more than 11 years, I would like to put a brighter spin on Dan Haley’s column in last week’s Wednesday Journal [Fancy streets are great, but wait there’s more, News, Oct. 13].
Based on one article he’d read years ago, Jon Hale states that it’s “what’s in the stores that counts,” leaving the impression that both Haley and the village board believe retail is the only economic development that matters. Given the results of the Chicago Avenue Neighborhood Plan, a study funded by the Village of Oak Park and published in 2006 (available on the village website’s community planning and development page), and what has happened along this street since, I believe “the million-plus it spent gussying up” this corridor has spurred a great deal of positive development — economic and otherwise — for both this neighborhood and our village.
Chicago Avenue is now a gateway to Oak Park of which we can all be proud. There are a large number of small businesses along this street that pay property taxes, provide employment, spur both foot and car traffic, and allow local residents to work, play, shop and eat close to home every day. In fact, two of the biggest success stories resulting from this study and the subsequent infrastructure improvements are on the very first block of Chicago Avenue and include the ARC Building at 18 Chicago Ave. and my business, Derby Lite.
The folks at Oak Park Apartments — a local business owned by Oak Park residents and with offices at 41 Chicago Ave. — took that corridor study and promise of improvements to heart. They invested a huge amount of money to purchase the dilapidated building at 18 Chicago Ave. and renovate it into a shared recreation center that now provides much-needed indoor athletic and meeting space at a reasonable rate for a plethora of community organizations that serve thousands of local children and adults. For this, they received neither village incentives nor Oak Park Development Corporation assistance.
And while I can’t speak for the other groups that utilize the ARC building, I can say that Derby Lite has grown almost 500 percent since moving into this space not quite one year ago. I currently employ eight instructors (six of whom live locally), hold practices five days a week, and serve well over 100 local families with roller skating for fun and fitness. I am grateful for the village’s investment in my neighborhood and believe economic growth starts with every small business and every resident that spends their hard-earned money for taxes, parking, rent, goods and services along this vital — and now attractive — part of our community. Money that probably wouldn’t be spent had it not been for the infrastructure improvements made here.
Clearly streetscaping is not “the only arrow in the quiver,” but it certainly is a sharp one that hits the target to stimulate growth and development for Oak Park and its residents.
Barbara Dolan, or “Queen B” when playing roller derby, is an Oak Park resident and founder of Derby Lite.%uFEFF