An Oak Park business group Tuesday announced its opposition to the village township’s plans to purchase a long-vacant building just south of the CTA Green Line. But The Avenue business association is running out of time, as the township is lobbying for Oak Park voters to finalize the purchase tonight.
The power to approve the deal is in the hands of individual Oak Parkers, who can vote for against the deal at the Oak Park Library tonight at 7 p.m., dictating whether the plan will move forward.
In a letter to the village board and township Tuesday, the business association urged the government body not to buy the empty building at 126-134 Oak Park Ave. The township plans to relocate its senior services to the property, but the business group would rather see the “prime” spot filled with retailers, according to the letter.
“The township takes away four prime retail storefronts and a large chunk of opportunity goes with it, permanently,” wrote Brandy Masoncup, president of The Avenue Business Association. “The long-term strategy and benefits for The Avenue must be taken into consideration.”
Masoncup, who is also the owner of Geppetto’s Toy Box on Lake Street, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. But in her letter, she said the business district had been “ecstatic” about a developer’s original plans to build a 42-unit condo building on the corner of Oak Park and South Boulevard, while also filling the historic buildings nearby with stores.
Unfortunately, she wrote, the properties fell into foreclosure, bringing about the opportunity for the township to buy the building for $650,000.
Masoncup pointed to the village’s plans to invest about $3 million into the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue later this year, hoping to liven up the area and attract more businesses to locate there.
In an interview earlier this week, Village Trustee Colette Lueck questioned whether Oak Park should spend so much on the street when the township was set to take up one of the few vacant properties.
“If you don’t have the space to attract the business, then do those kind of upgrades still make sense or not?” she said.
Township Supervisor David Boulanger could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. But the township has argued that their plan makes sense for The Avenue. Even in better economic times, the building was only occupied by a vacuum cleaner store and a Laundromat. And they believe the new senior services center would bring more patrons to businesses along the street, too.
For the past decade or so, the township has been scouring Oak Park, looking for a new spot for its senior services, which are currently located on the fifth and sixth floors of the Oak Park Arms, 418 S. Oak Park Ave. Space is somewhat cramped at that location and it’s a challenge for seniors to use a cramped elevator to go up five flights, according to the township. Not to mention the township is paying $120,000 in rent each year for the space.
Oak Park registered voters can have direct say tonight whether the township’s plans can move forward. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. tonight in the Veterans Room of the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake. If at least 15 voters show up, the township will hold a voice vote on the purchase no later than 7:50 p.m.