Oak Park Arts Center could get a boost from village hall

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Village officials would love to see top comedy acts and concerts in Oak Park, but they're just not sure where to put them. That's why village hall is talking to the owner of a local museum about the possibility of partnering to create an all-purpose concert venue here.

The Arts Center of Oak Park, located at Oak Park and Ontario, has been available since 1988, occasionally hosting concerts and consistently providing a home for the Ernest Hemingway Museum. The neo-classical building is impressive, said Village Manager Tom Barwin, but it's nearly 100 years old and in need of upgrades.

So village hall is discussing the possibility of kicking in TIF (tax increment financing) dollars to help with upgrades, making it more accessible, and widening the stage.

"It's a magnificent facility," Barwin said. "We've seen that it could work as an entertainment venue and a tourist attraction. I just would hate to let an opportunity slip without any analysis or conversation."

Upgrading the arts center was mentioned as a priority in the village's downtown master plan, which was completed by a consultant in 2005. Other options for funding any needed upgrades could include foundations, investors or state grants, Barwin said.

The arts center is currently owned by Chatka Ruggiero, a River Forest resident and semi-retired real estate investor. She bought the building in 1988 and converted it from a church to its current use. Ruggiero is eyeing full retirement and says she's had some offers to turn the center into a church or condos. However, she would prefer to see 200 N. Oak Park Ave. continue with its current use.

"I want to see the building remain as a cultural arts center," she said. "I'm not anxious to see it go condo or revert back to a church."

Barwin emphasized that the talks are very preliminary. He brought them up last week as part of a village board meeting about economic development in Oak Park. Trustees are expected to continue the discussion this month, to see whether they have any interest in pursuing the partnership.

Oak Park expanded the boundaries of its downtown TIF in 2005 to include the arts center, anticipating that TIF dollars could possibly be used for a "feasibility study," said Craig Failor, village planner. As suggested in Oak Park's downtown master plan, the study could help determine what repairs are needed and the best use for the property.

The arts center previously had issues with property taxes, as reported by Wednesday Journal last year. The bill jumped from $13,141 to $52,662 last year, shocking Ruggiero.

After a successful appeal, taxes dropped dramatically in 2010 (to $26,082), though not to their previous modest level, according to Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar.

Reader Comments

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Posted: January 29th, 2011 7:34 PM

i will report it to internal affairs or higher authority the river forest poice should treat everyone with RESPECT YOU NEED TO ADDRESS THIS MATTER EVER ONE IS SAYING THE POICE IS NOT DOING THER JOB AT THE RIVER FOREST MEETING

chuck from river forest ill  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 7:26 PM

the police is very rude in river forest and oak park it is time for the government to train it officiers how to work with people with disabilities the river forest poice is very mean to all residents what is their problem? ever time the poice is call the poice officer saide you need to stop call up what if i have a serious case look in to the we as tax payers


Posted: January 29th, 2011 12:48 PM

@Peter, Ask the current museum where the people park? This isnt Chicago, therefore we shouldnt compare the two. If we really want to be green, why dont we just bike there? I am not sure what the seating capacity is, but if it is in the hundreds, we have a problem. IMHO

OP Resdient  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 12:32 PM

Adult supervision needed at Village Hall. The trustees are unable to come up with the funds for crossing guards, infrastructure repairs, tree plantings and vital services. But there always seems to be money just lying around when it comes to this kind of wackiness. No problem paying for the safety razor sculptures on Harrison or the creepy logo for tourism banners on Lake Street. But they demand the Fire and Police Department delay purchasing safety and emergency equipment. A cruel joke, indeed.


Posted: January 29th, 2011 8:50 AM

@OP also, Oak Park is striving to be more green it would be kinda sad to worry about a 2 block walk wouldn't it?


Posted: January 29th, 2011 8:43 AM

@OP Of course it would. Honestly that walk is nothing compared to what people walk to get to shows/concerts and events in the City and they have to walk through the Ave. Business district past the stores and restaurants twice. And you could do the valet option easily, heck they should be now for those area restaurants to alleviate the congestion in that area.


Posted: January 28th, 2011 10:42 PM

@Peter, Seems a bit of a stretch. I suppose the the library lot would work as well???


Posted: January 28th, 2011 8:47 PM

@OP How about the big empty garage two blocks south by the train station? Or valet there and to the HS Garage.


Posted: January 28th, 2011 6:18 PM

Like the idea. One question. Where would people park?


Posted: January 28th, 2011 4:27 PM

Just what we need -- the Village bringing in comedians to distract us from the way they keep wasting our money.

j.oak park from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 4:06 PM

UMMm. the High School ha s huge auditorium, and a pay parking lot. Let spend some more time thinking instead of spending time spending money.


Posted: January 28th, 2011 3:46 PM

Hey why not put it in that new gleaming hotel where Certified used to be? What? Still a vacant lot?

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