After decades of abandonment and gross underuse, six major commercial properties at the heart of the Oak Park Arts District on Harrison Street have at long last been freed from the ownership and, most recently, the foreclosure process driven by the Kleronomos family.
We will never understand the inexplicable motivations of this local family in leaving these valuable properties essentially empty and derelict, some since the early 1980s. Thankfully, we no longer have to worry about that.
In late October, a newly formed LLC, Harrison Street Ventures, bought all six buildings out of foreclosure. And Mona Navitsky, one of LLC’s principals, is making all the right noises as she explains the next steps her group will be taking.
She is actively talking to other businesses in this vibrant but abused arts district. She is meeting with village government and economic development officials. She is pledging to talk with residential neighbors who live in this tight-knit area. She is assuring the handful of remaining tenants that she’d like them to stay. And she is talking about rehabbing properties rather than demolition.
Now we’re not saying that each building must remain intact as if we have stunning architecture here. But in this niche business district with its focus on artists, and its immediate residential neighbors, we appreciate a developer who seems to respect the relative scale of the community.
Add in the recent purchase of the also-failed LaMajada building on Harrison — we noticed the dumpster and the arrival of work crews there Monday — and the purchase of the also long-vacant “juice factory” closer to Ridgeland, and we have clear reason for optimism on this street.
An addendum: In recent years village officials have huddled behind the shield of the endless foreclosure process that held the Kleronomos properties hostage. And we agree that there was little to be done by a local government to speed that process. But that does not let village leaders off the hook for decades of somnolence as these buildings rotted without response from village hall.
That the arts district has survived is a true miracle. Now let’s see how, gradually, it might soar.