Finally. After decades of being vacant, two blocks of Madison Street in Oak Park will have a new use. A service providing, taxpaying use.
We could not be happier that Pete’s Fresh Market will open its second Oak Park store at Madison and Oak Park. This is a major victory for Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, the Oak Park Economic Development Corp., and village hall staff.
It is a remarkable demonstration of faith in the Oak Park area that the privately held Pete’s has chosen to open a second store in the village. Clearly the old Dominick’s on Lake Street has been a winner for the family-owned business.
That Oak Park’s village government overpaid to purchase most of the block from Oak Park Avenue to Euclid — and ultimately owned the entire block — and let it lie fallow outside of the Christmas tree-selling season is evidence of a failed strategy. That same failed strategy had Oak Park owning big chunks of Downtown Oak Park for years, assembling and overpaying for a site at Harlem and South Boulevard.
Abu-Taleb takes credit, and rightly gets it, for selling off every parcel of accumulated village-owned developable land during his eight years in office. You can like the tall buildings or not, but Abu-Taleb turned all that land into property-taxpaying assets in a town where residents are worried over their tax burden.
At Madison and Oak Park, the early decision was that this parcel, which came to include the long-vacant and unreclaimable Hudson car dealership, had to produce sales taxes in addition to property taxes. Given the declining and rapidly shifting retail market, it was logical that a grocery store was the best outcome.
At various points in the long, hard negotiations, Mariano’s was the target. Its purchase by Kroger put an end to those talks. Then attention turned to recruiting Jewel to upgrade from its small and shabby store at Madison and Scoville, only to have Jewel’s parent put the kibosh on that large investment.
Pete’s seemed unlikely with another thriving store about a mile away. But a deal got made and the upside is huge. An unexpected side benefit? Jewel has actually substantially remodeled both its Madison and Roosevelt Road stores in Oak Park.
As always happens, there are critics. Some claim this deal was rushed. That citizen input was not sought. That other independent grocers may be undermined by the new Pete’s. Our advice is to get a subscription to Wednesday Journal. We’ve been covering the plans for a grocery store at the intersection for years. Nothing has been hidden. Public meetings have been held. Everything is above board.
We’ve made clear our criticisms of the mayor. But in many areas he has done strong work. And in economic development, in the remaking of Madison Street he has done his best work.