It’s a grand space, whether you know it as the old Marshall Field’s or as the old Borders. But overall it is a financially troubled building with worse ownership. So the chances are strong that soon there will be a Sleepy’s Mattress store at Harlem and Lake.
The gnashing of teeth began within minutes of our posting that news last Thursday at OakPark.com. Hardly anyone wants Oak Park’s premier retail location to be a mattress store. Some readers are boiling, some are resigned, but no one is enthused. Nor should they be. This is a defeat in the decades-long effort to revitalize Downtown Oak Park.
Unless Sleepy’s is undone by a cascade of unwelcoming comments, there is nothing to be done to change this outcome. A mattress store is a permitted use under even the strict retail zoning imposed in downtown. This is a private transaction between a viable commercial enterprise and a landlord desperate for a paying tenant.
So what could Oak Park’s village government have done differently to achieve an outcome better than a mattress store?
If ever there was evidence that Oak Park’s efforts to stimulate and steer economic growth in the village are lame and confused, well this is it. And the moment to finally fix this is now.
Here’s the current situation: There’s the Oak Park Development Corporation, funded partly by taxpayers, partly by member banks. This organization, with its staff and its board, is in charge of some aspects of economic development. Then there is the village government itself with a planner and a business services manager, a code department and an inspection process.
So who’s in charge of what? Who recruits businesses? Who works to retain and grow them? Who markets the village as a whole? Who has a vision? Who has the clout to fix the bureaucracy? Well, we pay attention and we’re not sure either. We know the current and long-time rudderless effort is busted and that it creates a singular lack of accountability and energy.
With money in its budget to hire a development czar and a working model of success in the nearby Berwyn Development Corporation, it is time for the village president and board, as well as the OPDC board, to take this substandard effort down to the studs and to build something wholly new.