It is with deserved satisfaction that leaders of Oak Park’s village government point out that all of the many parcels of land the village government had acquired over decades have now been returned to the tax rolls via new development.
We can restate 25 years of editorial positions that the village government grossly overpaid for virtually ever parcel it ever obtained. We can argue, again, that many of the purchases, especially along Lake Street in downtown Oak Park, were made willy-nilly without anything approaching a plan for redevelopment.
Oak Park could be the poster city for why government is seldom the best option for acquiring property. Blame it on an Oak Park Economic Development Corporation that was in over its head for decades. Blame it on a deserved reputation among developers that Oak Park was about impossible to bring to the table to actually finalize any deal. Blame it on the economy. Blame it on the hubris of various village board members who, over many years, were certain they knew best what ought to be developed, how tall it should be, even what the building materials should be. That hubris is what begot the hideous Whiteco development (the building housing Trader Joe’s) on Harlem Avenue.
We are less exercised than some that village government largely discounted and even gifted some of these prime parcels to developers in recent years. Sure, it would have been grand to get market price for our over-investment. But better to have secured solid developers and development and begin the flow of property tax and sales tax revenue to our various taxing bodies.
There are many lessons to learn from Oak Park’s headlong rush into property acquisitions: Have a strategy. Have capable people overseeing the process. Have an exit timeline.
But for all our criticism over all these years, the lesson isn’t that Oak Park should never again acquire property. We see blighted parcels along Roosevelt Road that could be assembled and repurposed. There could be a short-term advantage in village intervention at whatever happens next at the derelict Mohr Concrete plant on Harlem.
We should celebrate the development that has finally been generated here without becoming fully gun-shy.