More than a decade after it was first discussed, the Village of Oak Park will be rebuilding Oak Park Avenue in 2025. The project will include replacing the more than century old underground water and sewer infrastructure, as well as then building a new streetscape from one end of the Hemingway District business area to the other.
Some 45 Oak Parkers turned out June 27 for an informational meeting hosted by the village, its engineering staff and consultants about the streetscaping portion. The project will cover Oak Park Avenue between Ontario Street and Pleasant Streets, as well as the intersections of Oak Park Avenue and North and South Boulevards.
Still in its conceptual phase, attendees were given red and green sticky dots to put on proposed design elements to indicate whether they liked what they saw or didn’t.
“We want to make something better and really bring people to this district at the end of the day,” said Bill McKenna, Oak Park’s village engineer.
A steering committee of area business stakeholders co-chaired by the village’s former mayor, Anan Abu-Taleb, has been working with the village on the project. Abu-Taleb’s restaurant Maya Del Sol sits on the avenue, while the committee’s other co-chair, Mike Fox, is a commercial landlord with notable holdings in both the Hemingway District and Downtown Oak Park.
McKenna led the meeting presentation, later handing the metaphorical microphone over to Manisha Kaul and Sara Egan of Design Workshop, the Chicago-based landscape architecture firm working with the village on the project. TERRA Engineering is also on the project team, although none of the firm’s representatives spoke during the presentation.
The goals of the project, as Kaul shared during the presentation, include choosing a design that fits in with the neighborhood, while being fiscally responsible and choosing materials with long lifecycles.
The streetscaping will likewise increase safety and accessibility in the district by putting in better viaduct lighting, signage and shortened sidewalks, among other improvements. Signage will use the same color palette and typography to reinforce the district’s identity. There will also be more signs directing people to public parking garages.
In creating more comfortable “people space,” another project goal, the design team intends to reclaim as much pedestrian space as possible by leveraging alleys for gathering and increasing bicycle parking. Lighting will play a role in achieving this atmosphere, with the design team proposing overhead festoon lights, like Marion Street has, and “illuminated art,” such as a fire feature of some kind.
The last goal of the project, “resiliency,” aligns with the Village of Oak Park’s wider climate action goal. The streetscaping will integrate green infrastructure and increase the tree canopy in the area by 20%. The Bradford pear trees, an invasive species, that currently line the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue will be removed and replaced with native plants, which will reduce water consumption.
When taken all together, the project’s five goals serve the wider objective of establishing the Hemingway District as an Instagram-worthy “signature destination” for residents and visitors alike, but there are could be some potential drawbacks such as limited room for outdoor dining and reduced driving lane widths.
The input gathered at the meeting will be reviewed by the design team, the village and the steering committee. Final design development will begin in fall of 2023, with a recommendation made to the village board likely in October.
No cost estimates have been developed this early in the process, but McKenna said the project will be “locally funded.” The board will weigh in on how the project is ultimately paid for by the village.
In 2024, the village will begin communicating heavily with businesses in the district to determine how to keep the street accessible throughout construction. Local communications agency A5 Branding & Digital is handling the project’s business support campaign. A website, www.renewtheavenue.com, has been created to keep the public updated throughout the project.