They have a grand name: The Gateway Districts. The reality, though, of the sad little business districts that abut Austin Boulevard at Roosevelt, Madison, Lake, Chicago and North is that they are forgotten, more an extension of the West Side than a part of Oak Park.

Absent the major investments that Mike Kelly’s lamented Park National made at Madison and at North Avenue and a few paving bricks put down by the village over the years, the history of these so-called gateways is bleak.

Now, though, there is the possibility that one Oak Park taxing body — the park district — could jolt the sorry strip at Lake Street and Austin by planting its wildly popular Gymnastics Center in the former Aldi store it recently acquired. In fact, when the park district began discussions of purchasing the abandoned grocery, it seemed a given that the gymnastics program would expand there.

However, decision day is near and the park district may be wavering. Should this critical east side intersection be home to the life-infusing gymnastics center with its hundreds upon hundreds of weekly family visits or should the parks move their maintenance and storage facility to the site?

Our choice is clear: Lake Street and Humphrey should be the new site of the gymnastics center. The opportunity to revitalize this east-side strip is a once-in-a-generation chance. It would effectively continue the effort the park district made a few years back when it plunked a well received skateboard park and new basketball hoops in the adjacent Stevenson Park.

And the choice is clearer still because the alternative — turning the site into a garage for trucks and supplies — is such a deadening use for this corner, ensuring that nothing good will ever grow on this block.

Hundreds of families from across the village converging weekly at Lake and Humphrey could well inspire a coffee shop, a restaurant and other retail. And the new home of the Historical Society in that area would further the synergy. The park board, as part of its broader responsibility to the community, must consider the broad impact of this key decision.

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