The expansive $15 million Lake Street reconstruction project could start as early as the end of February, weather permitting. Upon the expected November completion, a substantial section of Lake Street in Oak Park will have improved accessibility, a completely updated infrastructure and a more beautiful visage.
“It’s been something the village has been planning and designing for a little over a decade now, since about 2006, 2007,” said Oak Park Village Engineer Bill McKenna.
The project—from Harlem to Austin — encompasses three major efforts that correspond with certain sections of Lake Street. The infrastructure portion, which tackles water and sewer main replacements, will be the first to begin construction in March, maybe end of February and finish in May. The infrastructure work will replace underground pipes that are a century old and start at Euclid Avenue, then move west to Grove Avenue. This project will cost roughly $2.1 million and be paid for with village funds.
Following the start of the sewer and water work, the streetscaping and resurfacing portion will begin April and is expected to last until Thanksgiving. From Harlem Avenue to Euclid Avenue, Lake Street will get resurfaced, sidewalks replaced from buildings on the north side to buildings on the south side of Lake, and new lighting and traffic signals implemented. This stretch of Lake Street will also get new trees, landscaping and furniture. This portion marks the project’s biggest expense, costing about $10.6 million. The village received $3 million in federal funding for streetscaping and village funds will cover the remaining $7.6 million.
While north-south streets in downtown will largely remain open to auto traffic throughout construction, much of Lake Street itself will be fully closed to cars during construction. There will always be sidewalk access to businesses and parking garages will remain accessible.
The resurfacing of Lake Street from Euclid Avenue to Austin Boulevard makes up the third leg of the project. The cost of resurfacing is around $2 million, which local funds will cover. Due to the proximity of many schools, this portion will begin in June and wrap up in September.
“We also have a small contract where we’re purchasing traffic signals, equipment and stuff like that for about $300,000,” said McKenna.
The village of Oak Park has hired Brian Racine of TranSystems, who will act as project manager. Racine will act as a point person for Lake Street businesses to contact.
The village government also hired the Prescott Group to develop the “Better Lake Street” campaign to support businesses within the three affected districts – Downtown Oak Park, the Pleasant District and the Hemingway District. The campaign includes business coordination and customer outreach.
“We would meet monthly last year to kind of get everything started,” said Downtown Oak Park Executive Director Shanon Williams. “It’s nice that the village initiated all this because it is stuff that the three districts had gotten together to talk about. These are things we need.”
The village has partnered with shops and restaurants in the three districts to create to create a generous shopper rewards program.
“Kind of mimicking the one we do here during the holidays,” said Williams.
The program is intended to encourage shoppers to brave road closures, noise and other construction obstacles.
May 1 through Oct. 15, by spending $20 or more at five participating businesses with a total of $200 or more, shoppers will receive $25 in gift certificates upon turning in their receipts.
“For the rebate program, we were asking for $120,000 from the village,” said Williams.
She met with Village Manager Cara Pavlicek, Development Customer Services Director Tammie Grossman and Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
“The village was extremely supportive of this program and they figured a way to get it into their budget,” Williams said.
While the rewards program will help, shops and restaurants in the three districts are still worried about the impact the Lake Street project will have on their ability to conduct business.
“Absolutely the businesses are nervous,” Williams said. “It’s scary. Even the merchants on Marion Street will be affected because of the dust, the dirt, the noise. But we have been preparing them for well over a year.”
According to Anne Pezalla, co-owner of Lively boutique and president of the Hemingway District Business Association, the project will be “especially brutal” to businesses in the Hemingway District.
“We’re going to have construction here twice,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard and we’re all very nervous about it.” Current plans are for major infrastructure work on Oak Park Avenue in 2022.
Pezalla and Williams hope that customer loyalty, combined with the shopper rewards program, will keep businesses from being hit too badly.