Oak Park village hall

Oak Park’s village board on Monday began carving up its share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act pie, promising slices of funds to different local organizations. Roughly $3.5 million was committed March 14 for the first round of community requests. The village of Oak Park will receive a total of $38.9 million in ARPA funds; $14 million has already been used to reimburse village government for lost revenues due to COVID-19.

The meeting was highly productive for the village board, considering the first discussion of community requests on Jan. 31 resulted in much confusion; three trustees asked independently for a scorecard by which to rate each request.

Such a rubric was created by the Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, which rated each first-round community request based on 13 standards, ranging from equity to application quality. CDCAC Chair Stephen Morales presented the committee’s findings March 14 and it was smooth sailing from there.

All first-round community requests were not discussed, however. The North Avenue District volunteered to have its request considered during the second round. The business district had requested $100,000 to fund public art along North Avenue. That request will likely be revisited this fall, according to Interim Village Manager Lisa Shelley.

Likewise, the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation is taking a step back to make certain its application meets the various requirements for the allocation of federal funds. The OPEDC had requested $500,000 to start a grant process to grow and support Black-owned small businesses.

“More work needs to be done to ensure our proposed program falls in the ARPA guidelines as well as other federal guidelines concerning allocation of funds,” John Lynch, OPEDC executive director, told Wednesday Journal.

The remaining four requests were discussed and voted on separately. The village board unanimously approved the request for $525,000 from the Hephzibah Children’s Association. The Collaboration for Early Childhood’s request for $1.1 million also received unanimous board approval. The latter organization’s proposal combined individual requests from early childhood educators, as well as nonprofits that cater to young children or families with young children.

The village board essentially split the Park District of Oak Park’s request into two parts. It opted to commit $1 million to the park district rather than committing the requested $2 million, which would have been dispersed over two years. The money will go toward reimbursing lost revenue to the park district’s capital improvement plan. The board will decide if another $1 million should be allocated to the park district during discussions of second-round community requests. Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla was the only trustee to vote against this motion.

She was also the only trustee to vote against the Oak Park Tourism Recovery Initiative, believing the Oak Park tourism industry’s situation less urgent than that of the other applicants. The OPTRI is a consortium of the non-profit tourism organizations Visit Oak Park, the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, the Oak Park Area Arts Council, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. The village board chose to give the OPTI $827,000, deducting $50,000 from the originally requested amount that was designated for marketing and advertising in its application. The total will be disbursed among the five non-profits: Visit Oak Park will receive $192,000; the Hemingway Foundation $140,000; the FLW Trust $180,000; OPAAC $220,000; and Unity Temple Restoration Foundation $95,000.

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