At a time when Oak Park is finally moving ahead in peddling commercial properties the village has strategically/willy-nilly acquired over the past decades, I was reminded recently of perhaps the least known and most forgotten village property buy.

It is a small building at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Austin. Four small storefronts, two apartments upstairs and some parking spaces out back. The building looks OK except for the fact that, as the Oak Park owner of a business down the block pointed out to me, the main corner storefront has been empty for years. 

I sent a note to Village Manager Cara Pavlicek asking her for the current status of the building. She was prompt in getting back to me and said someone would gather up the information. It came through Monday and was a mixed bag of details. 

The biggest surprise to me was that the village bought 2-10 Chicago Ave. 29 years ago, way back in 1985. I remember the purchase and the purpose. It was a tough block, up against a tougher block to the east and Oak Park wanted to control this gateway property to prevent a worrisome tenant — 24-hour currency exchange, hot dog joint, beeper rentals — from moving in. The intentions were good. Oak Park paid $117,000 for the corner, an O’Connor Cleaners was in the main storefront.

And that was the last I thought about the place. I suppose I noticed when the cleaners moved out. Maybe it dawned on me that no one ever moved in. But I recognize that leasing 1,000 square feet at that intersection when the uses are limited wouldn’t be easy. Pavlicek acknowledged the prime corner had been empty a long time but said the village board OK’d a lease for a national tax franchise last November. As of now I see no signs the tax place has started renovations, and it is not exciting that tax offices are open about four months of the year. That makes this no great catch if the goal is to revitalize the block.

And that’s my question: Is the goal to revitalize the block? Or are we still fighting a rear-guard action against beeper rentals? In the new world order of economic development in Oak Park, who is in charge of that goal? Someone at village hall, the Oak Park Residence Corporation, which manages 2-10 Chicago for the village, or is it the spanking new OPEDC, which at various points in the past was tasked with our sad “gateways” to Austin?

Pavlicek’s note points out the property also includes Jamaica Grill, a pretty good takeout place I’d recommend. And the village donates two storefronts to the State’s Attorney’s Community Justice Center. That’s a good program and a good partnership with the Oak Park and Austin cops, but it is not exactly building a commercial strip.

This block almost got the Noon Whistle Brewery a few months back, still has the athletic center and there’s also a darned good hardware store that Oak Parkers really ought to patronize. Bee Home and Garden, the wonderful gift store I wrote about last week, is just a couple of blocks to the west.

As Oak Park finally, hopefully moves past the point where every iota of economic development brain power is focused on the downtown, it is way past time to turn attention back to the neighborhoods. The residential neighborhood around Chicago and Austin is strong and vital. The Austin neighborhood to the east is filled with single-family homeowners. There is an opportunity here if we are audacious enough to grab it.

The location of the building was orginally said to be on the northeast corner of Chicago and Austin. This column has been updated. The correct location of the building is the northwest corner of Chicago and Austin.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...