A new gateway for North Avenue?

Community organization, business owners, neighbors float sign idea

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Is the Oak Park stretch of North Avenue having an identity crisis? Some would say yes.

The commercial corridor is unique, however, in that it links the communities of Oak Park and the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago, says Judith Alexander, chairwoman of the community group The North Avenue District (T-NAD). A gateway sign might help connect the two communities, though.

Alexander said the idea for the gateway sign came from a brainstorming session last year with the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce that aimed to identify what makes the business district unique.

The meeting was attended by T-NAD representatives, North Avenue business owners and residents.

The idea – Alexander noted that it is still just a concept to see what people think – is that it would help bring better recognition to Galewood.

"I thought this would be a great way to help with that, because everybody knows North Avenue," she said.

She said the idea was inspired by the Puerto Rican flag gateway signs that bookends the Paseo Boricua District of Humboldt Park along Division Street.

"This really helps establish a sense of place," Alexander said. "We need to do that for the North Avenue District."

She acknowledged that it's going to take more than a sign to help improve the fortunes of the business district.

"We have to do a lot of things in addition, so we do have a distinctive district," Alexander said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Leonard Grossman  

Posted: March 8th, 2018 5:10 PM

I am afraid this feels more like a visual separation from Austin than a bridge to Galewood. We need bridges to Austin, not more separation.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 5th, 2018 7:10 PM

The High School kids had a backwards club. Someone would have to drive backward down the I 190 from Harlem to Austin with a witness. This was about three in the morning and sobered up many unsuspecting half drunk motorists. I wonder how long until the challenge to climb the arch, hand over hand, one side to another? Base jumping anyone?

Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2018 2:15 PM

Tom, the lots in the North Ave. District are much too shallow/small for any of the uses you mention. There isn't a lot of shopping on North Ave., but Licht is an excellent place to buy top-quality paint and window treatments. Barnard's Schwinn is a wonderful place to buy a bike or bicycle accessories, and for bike repair. It's been in the family for generations and the owners will treat you right. Amazingly deep inventory, knowledgeable service and bargain prices at Batteries + Bulbs. Al-Mart will give you fine service and great deals on mattresses and furniture. Across the street, check out Yonan for rugs, carpets and other flooring. The District is also a great place to get something to eat. For fast food, try Michael's House of Beef, Buona Beef, Nick Jr.'s Grill, or North Ave. Falafel. We have some great sit-down restaurants, including an excellent Vietnamese place--Cafe Hoang, 2 fine Thai places--Amarind's and Na Siam, delicious pizza at Edwardo's, and wonderful Mexican food at Sergio's. You'll find some excellent service establishments, too. Quick, friendly and knowledgeable service at UPS. Terrific workouts at Orange Theory Fitness. Excellent printing and service at Minute Man Press. And it's much easier to park on North Ave. than elsewhere in Oak Park.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 3rd, 2018 11:06 PM

Alice: I had to look up "cargo cult". Very apt metaphor. And yes, Jenna, given the recent DTOP spending fiasco, I assumed we'd be paying for this arch as well. But thanks to assurances from Judith, that this will be born by a grant and not the taxpayer, I was wrong. My apologies.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 3rd, 2018 10:38 PM

North Avenue lost out big when no effort was made to attract the jewelry artists and craftsman who were thrown out of their long time building at 5 N. Wabash. Jewelry, small, weighs nothing, expensive, a security problem that can be addressed. North Avenue lost out big.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 3:01 PM

Give us a reason to shop on North Avenue and you will have lots of activity up there. Its a dead zone now. Further west on 64 there is a Cinemark, an indoor soccer field, a Best Buy, a Costco. People drive from here to get to those places, so give them something like that. I doubt those kinds of businesses care about having a decorative arch. They probably just care about property taxes and parking.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 1:37 PM

Anyone else is getting the vibes of cargo cult with this sign? Build it and they will come! Sorry, I don't think so. If you're serious about revitalizing the area, lower the price (and taxes!), cut the red tape and contain the neighborhood opposition. Don't force people who want to open a business or build something in that location to jump through the zillion hoops, or they will give up and move elsewhere. Didn't you all just shut down the proposed development on the north side of the street? That's what I mean.

Terence Jones  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 10:41 AM

Spin it any way you want. Denigrate the comments of those who are not in agreement. If the district is struggling, find ways to bring in businesses that will attract customers. Otherwise you are proposing putting lipstick on the pig.

Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 10:10 AM

Thanks for you kind comment, Jim, and your effort to be positive, Nick. To all the rest of the commentors, why are you assuming that Oak Park taxpayers will be asked to pay for the signs? There are a variety of other funding sources including private foundations and contributions from the district's business and property owners. We applied for and received a grant for the soon-to-begin district economic development study. Oak Park taxpayers also should consider what an under-performing North Ave. business district is costing them. Owners of vacant properties pay almost no property taxes. So a greater burden falls on residents. The reverse is also true. A thriving district picks up more of the tax burden. It also would improve property values of nearby residential blocks in Oak Park and Chicago.

Jim Major from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 9:09 AM

I think that this is a fantastic idea. Judith has worked tirelessly to improve that area . Dealing with other communities including the City on a state road. No small task yet Judith and others have made a real difference under very difficult circumstances. I greatly appreciate their accomplishments!

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 8:58 AM

Did I miss the part where it says Oak Park taxpayers will be funding Galewood's 'sense of place' and provide it 'better attention'? I'm not particularly impressed by the idea, but the businesses should be able to explore what they'd like to invest in. Or is public funding just assumed as a given these days?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 2nd, 2018 12:23 AM

Nick: It is constructive: don't do something so patently wasteful and easily perceived as ludicrously wasteful; especially in today's fierce tax environment. That is absolutely counter productive and NOT the way to win friends and influence people. Suggesting a way to prevent political suicide is constructive council as far as I am concerned.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 9:12 PM

How about some constructive criticism for Judith? She's trying here. Some thoughts: Why not partner with RF and EP on the west end of North Ave for a similar gateway so it's one cohesive district? TBH, Elmwood Park's stretch is the main draw for now. Second, "North Avenue District" is too generic a name for such a long stretch of road. Perhaps something like NorGO or a unique moniker. Perhaps draw on the uniqueness of having 4 corners at North/Harem w/ 4 different neighborhoods. Probably a good opportunity there with a new tenant in the Sears lot coming soon.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 8:54 PM

I agree Paul and Valerie. This is a ludicrous wasteful stupid idea. As Ms. Alexander admits its going to take more than a sign to improve the fortunes of this train wreck of a business district. And Terence, I always viewed the ludicrous Gumby's more like giant Gillette disposable razors . But certainly the Gumby's are less costly than this high maintenance "bridge to nowhere." Yep just spend more money on stupid stuff - that's what we do here in Oak Park.

Paul Cagnina  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 7:25 PM

Huge waste of money. Nothing good will come of the North Ave project. Oak Park needs to consentrate on projects that MIGHT work instead of projects that might NOT work.

Valerie E. Jones  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 6:14 PM

RiDICULOUS WASTE OF TAXPAYER $$$ Cost of installation, cost of upkeep, cost of eventual tear down - just nuts. Can't anyone think of anything practical for our overtaxed village? Like a large hotel to host architectural guests/seminars and large wedding parties?

Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 5:18 PM

Forgot to say thank you to Hammersley Architecture for taking a vague idea and transforming it into a handsome rendering that helps people visualize how a bridge sign might look. And thanks to Tim Inklebarger and the Wednesday Journal for their interest in and coverage of The North Avenue District.

Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 5:15 PM

Just to clarify, the main reason for a bridge sign like this would be to help place-making for the district. As the article notes, the most unique aspect of its identity is as a bridge between the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago and Oak Park. But it could also help provide more name recognition for Galewood--something that many leaders of that community would like. Everyone knows where North Avenue is. The bridge sign could help Galewood take advantage of that.

Terence Jones  

Posted: March 1st, 2018 4:59 PM

About as brilliant as the two Gumbys at either end of the Arts District of Harrison Street.

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