Oak Park’s historic Cheney Mansion is getting rented out more than before, thanks to the redesigned website and positive word of mouth generated through the building’s participation in 2017 Open House Chicago event.

That was the major takeaways from a report presented during the April 5 meeting of the Park District of Oak Park Board of Commissioners’ committee of the whole. 

The report was presented by Susan Crane, the mansion’s operations and events supervisor, and Maureen McCarthy, the park district’s superintendent of recreation. 

While having more people rent out spaces was good for the building, two last-minute wedding cancellations – something that, the officials explains, creates holes in the schedule that are hard to fill on short notice – means that the overall revenues increased only slightly compared to 2016. 

But they were hopeful that they will be able to build on the positive momentum and bring the numbers up this year. 

Crane explained that, when it came to rentals, there were two major changes. The park district raised rental rates by 6 percent for Saturdays and by 8 percent for Friday evenings.

And they started renting out individual rooms Monday through Thursday. This, she said, gave people and organizations more opportunities and more flexibility to make bookings. Crane said she expects that it will lead to more corporate bookings. 

The website redesign, Crane said, made it easier for people to book spaces large and small.

“It’s more user-friendly for people who are on the go and want a quick answer,” Crane said.

Last year marked the first time Cheney Mansion was part of Open House Chicago – an annual event organized by Chicago Architectural Foundation that allows people to visit spaces that would normally be off limits to the public. 

Crane said that the building got 1,562 visitors, helping to bring attention to the mansion and actually leading to two wedding bookings from visitors who were impressed with what they saw.

“That part was surprising to me,” Crane said.

McCarthy said that they ramped up the marketing in general and improved the way they present booking information.

“We have professional [informational] folders now,” she said. “These are very sleek, very nice, professional pieces that can go up against any professional wedding venue.”

Thanks to the aforementioned wedding cancellations, the overall revenue from rentals was down from last year — $178,400 compared to 2016’s $183,992.50. 

But the next-largest source of revenue, program fees, has been growing, going up from $10,360 to $21,004. 

Crane said that the mansion has been hosting more park district events – something that they plan to build on.

 “I think the location appeals to people,” McCarthy said.

The park district also working on creating another source of revenue for the mansion, thanks to the currently vacant office space on the third floor. Pro Musica, which used to rent the space, moved out last year. The park district is working to convert it into studios that local photographers will be able to rent out on per-hour basis.

 “Since there are so many photographers interested in the mansion, we thought it would be a great opportunity to generate revenue,” Crane said.

She said that they will be able to start booking space sometime in July 2018. 

The two officials also highlighted Cheney Mansion programs that give back to the community. 

The park district allowed the village of Oak Park to use the space for its volunteer appreciation day, and Oak Park and River Forest High School used it for its teacher retirement party. 

The mansion’s community garden has grown food that was donated to the OPRF food pantry. According to the report, the pantry received approximately 565 pounds of fresh produce last year, and visitors to the mansion donated a total of $200 in cash that went to the pantry as well.

“I think it’s a great thing that we were able to do on that property,” Crane said.

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...

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