Madison 'curve' developer buying parcels

Board of trustees approves $361,000 to study curving commercial corridor


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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The village of Oak Park released a bold vision for a Madison Street that narrows and curves the roadway near the intersection of Euclid Avenue to create space for a major mixed-use development. 

Oak Park residents were given their first glimpse of the plan at Monday's Village Board of Trustees meeting that shows Madison Street curving slightly to the north between Wesley and Oak Park avenues. The concept was first reported in Wednesday Journal last month.

The village approved spending $360,858 to hire Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. to develop an engineering and design plan to realign the street. The realignment is in addition to the streetscape and road diet project Burke has been working on for the village since September 2015. The road diet plan, which will narrow Madison from five lanes to three and add a bike lane, also includes rehabbing the streetscape to include more trees, improved sidewalks and other amenities. That plan was approved last year by the board of trustees.

The preliminary plan for the street alignment was proposed by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a village entity tasked with attracting and retaining business that has been working behind the scenes with an unnamed developer. 

John Lynch, executive director of the OPEDC, said at Monday's meeting that a specific developer, who he would not reveal, is interested in building the mixed-use structure on the village-owned property at the northeast corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. Realigning the street would allow for a deeper lot on the south side of Madison near Euclid that would be turned into a block-wide retail building with on-site parking.

The developer also would purchase property running along the north side of Madison from Oak Park to Wesley avenues. Those properties would become retail and more parking, according to a map presented by OPEDC.

Lynch said it's time for the village "do something exciting and dramatic" on the commercial corridor that is now home to a mix of uses that include fast-food restaurants, gas stations and other uses unlikely to attract visitors to the area.

Lynch said in a letter to the village board that the developer has several parcels of land under contract for purchase adjacent to the property from 710 to 722 Madison Street. Purchase of these neighboring properties would allow the developer to expand its footprint for the proposed mixed-use building. 

"The purpose of the roadway 'bend' would be to create a development parcel of sufficient size to attract a large-format anchor tenant for the development area between Oak Park Avenue and East Avenue, which OPEDC believes may be necessary to induce high-quality retail and mixed-use development that has historically proven difficult to attract along that stretch of Madison Street," Lynch said in a letter to the board.

The project would be funded, at least in part, through the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance District that is set to expire in 2018, according to village engineer Bill McKenna.

Some residents voiced opposition to the road diet and realignment plan.

Dino Tsagaris, who runs Elite Upholstery at 633 Madison, said there already is a shortage of parking on Madison and he worries that narrowing the street might make it worse. "What happens if it becomes even worse and more congested like Lake Street?" he asked the board.

Chris Donovan, a resident of the area, who has mounted a campaign against the road diet plan, said he can't find any neighbors who support the proposal. Donovan passed out fliers at the meeting suggesting that narrowing the road could lead to congestion that would push cars onto neighborhood streets and make it difficult to access businesses.

One resident, Steve Loranz, testified in favor of the road diet and streetscaping proposal, comparing it to the narrower Madison that runs through neighboring downtown Forest Park. "If we look at Forest Park, which has a similar smaller footprint for Madison, they are kicking our butts with retail and pedestrian friendly businesses," he said.

The proposal to fund the engineering study was approved unanimously, with Trustee Colette Lueck absent.


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John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: June 17th, 2016 12:22 PM

These are not the best days to be a business or home owner!

John Pullano from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2016 11:54 AM

I own part of the 100 Block of Madison St. I would love to work with a developer interested in reviving the Madison Street Corridor. New developments bring new customers and revenue !!!

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 22nd, 2016 12:23 PM

The Curve covers four streets and blocks traffic from Austin to Harlem. Is $360,000 worth the effort. It has no known value unless you want to P.O. drivers!

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 21st, 2016 10:12 PM

John Kehoe: - Here is a note I got from a friend. " I love Michigan - particularly the "sleeping bear dunes area" and crystal lake. But I absolutely agree with you and Kehoe. I've lived here for 33 years. I have a love hate relationship with the village. And yes, every project that they ever sold to us is guaranteed to lower our taxes. IT NEVER EVER HAPPENS. NEVER. Out taxes always go up and our services for real needs go down and our fantasies and wants for the outrageous - 50 M pool, Eisenhower cap, road diet - keeps on growing. If the village was a person, that person would be certifiably insane. The market value of my large meticulously cared for Victorian has increased by a factor of approx six since 1983. My property taxes have increased by a factor of approx ten." Bruce Oak Park, IL

James West  

Posted: April 21st, 2016 8:58 PM

Steve Loranz, you are in favor of the design on Madison street, because of Forest Park's , Madison street. Forest Park, does not have Walmart, on Madison street. You don't know what type of store is moving in at Oak Park avenue, and Madison street, so you don't have anyway to compare Forest Park's, business district on Madison street.

James West  

Posted: April 21st, 2016 8:51 PM

John Butch Murtagh, you are a tax payer, and the Marion Street Cheese Market, has a permanent structure built for customers on a public sidewalk. You should be entitled to your share of profits since the sidewalk belongs to tax payers, and the Marion Street Cheese Market, makes money. Another possible place you may be entitled to depending on what they are building in front of Connolly's Public House, which was built with part owner investment, and a group of people who put money to fund it is if the new street work will include developing seating out on a public walk way.

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 21st, 2016 1:51 PM

Hi John ?" I know where you are coming from. My wife and I retired and moved to Oak Park in 2001. The mortgage for the house we bought here was three time the amount we paid in Michigan. We choked a bit but loved the village, was told our taxes would go down when the major project were completed and village revenue improved, and was confident that our house would grow in value. Heck, it was going to be our last home. After 15 years of tax increases, a housing value that has not climbed, and the deterioration of the village infrastructure (where did the trees go?), we are not certain if we can stay. The tax increase this year was harsh, but we can cover it. If the tax rate continues to climb, the OP party will be over. One of the reasons we chose OP was the inclusion of village services in our taxes. Services of all types were included in our taxes; temporarily. The added service cost is not the only problem; the deterioration in services is. Did you see that the village cannot help a resident to get rid of a "rather large raccoon" because they have no employee certified to handle the rodent equipment? That's the service we need. We don't need parks over the Ike, Curves and Road Diet on Madison, Hi-Rises, or Luxury Pools. If we are to stay we need realistic taxation and a village that is not falling apart. Hang in there John, I know how miserable a move decision is.

John Kehoe  

Posted: April 21st, 2016 12:41 PM

It seems that almost every week I read an article in this paper reporting how Oak Park keeps making it easier for my wife and I to decide to move out of this Village. I attended St. Giles and Fenwick and we have lived in two beautiful homes in Oak Park since 1972, restoring and maintaining both as best we could. Our original "plan" was to spend our retirement in our present Victorian home, but this unlimited spending, tax breaks to ever increasing dense development leading to prohibitively high taxes and fees, are forcing our hand. We love Oak Park. We just can't afford to live or shop here anymore.

Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 8:32 PM

A small correction to the article. To the best of my knowledge, OPEDC is not explicitly tasked with retaining Oak Park businesses. In my opinion, it is extremely important that some group have this mission explicitly. It is almost always easier and less costly to retain a customer than to attract a new one. If we had a strong retention program, perhaps we would not have lost Centuries and Sleuths book store, Thyme & Honey restaurant and Todd & Holland Tea Merchants to Forest Park.

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 3:58 PM

Moe Kay - If Tom Coffman is new here, he sure learns quickly. Great post Tom. Yours was great too Moe!

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 3:53 PM

Rev. Tom Holmes, Wednesday Journal's Religion Blogger wrote this week, "Trust is precious", when a church, a condo association, a business, a newspaper, a village, a state and a nation all work better." The quote was published on the same day that Marc Stopeck, the Wednesday Journal's Artist Supreme, posted a depiction of a village grocery shopper trying to decide whether to buy the necessities or the "top shelf" OPRF Pool, Road Diet, and 3 Acre Park Over Ike. The statements by Rev, Holmes and Marc Stopeck left me thinking about how hard it is be trustful in the 21st Century, and how greed and waste in our community has corrupted us all. In 1986, the village began refurbishing Madison Street. The project spanned from Austin to Harlem. "Tax Increment Financing"(TIF) were used to pay for the work. There was twenty-three years allowed to complete the work. Some thirty million dollars was received from the TIF. Some fifteen millions was spent by 2015. It is unclear where the balance (15 Mil) went. The 2016 Budget indicates there is only one million dollar of TIF money remains. Most residents of Oak Park know that very little work was ever done on Madison Street. They also know that the village is planning another Madison refurbishment. Stephen King, the writer, said, "The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool." Trust is hard sometimes. How can I help make our village work better when I don't trust the people that run it?

Moe Kaye  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 3:16 PM

@Tom Coffman You must be new here! Otherwise you would realize that any NEW business development that comes into this stretch of Madison WILL get a nice fat tax break or some other form of subsidy. Oh, any any and all zoning variances they can dream up. That's the Oak Park way, after all.

Vincent L Michael from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 3:10 PM

And tear down two E.E. Roberts buildings too? Not clever.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 12:38 PM

Richard Fischer asking for a report on all the reports the Village has funded would produced some shocking results. Tens of millions of tax dollars have been funneled to consultants and experts without any competitive or open bidding. It's white collar patronage and too often resulted in big contracts being handed out to insiders with no real expertise or proven track record. This $360k study of Madison St. will be paid with TIF funds so there will be no transparency or accountability. Good government in Oak Park remains as elusive goal regardless of who serves on the Village board. Sweetheart deals are still an unfair and dishonest practice.

John Neumann from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 9:59 AM

Looks great! Happy to see Village is looking at investing in Madison Street.

Christos Haralambidis  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 9:44 AM

Seeing the design idea, i would put an underpass to get the riff raff away from that area. Where to those cars come from? where do they go? Think about it. This would allow that shopping district to be local and non-congested with thugs driving through.

Tom Coffman  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 9:37 AM

Pure insanity. The village will use this to buy up more real estate and we'll watch it sit for another decade. How about plan B: use the $361K to lower taxes to new businesses in that area, and sell off all Village owned land. Force Foley Rice to pay back the money it took and put that in the pot too. If we can take vacant RE on Harrison, then why not on the most important corner in Oak Park (from the last study).

John Abbott from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 9:00 AM

I don't know what's worse, the $361,000 price tag for this study or the feeling that we've been here (and spent here) before -- many times over. Maybe it's time to ditch all of these delusional expectations -- the Madison corridor in OP is never going to resemble that in FP, if only because FP got there first and there's only so much redundancy (and commercial traffic) you can shoehorn into the built environment. Nor do I see any real solution to the traffic problem -- I agree with others that there's little upside to diverting commuters to Washington or Jackson or elsewhere. So why not a long-term vision that aims to create, step-by-step as opportunities arise, a maximal amount of green space -- parklands, play sites etc. -- along the Madison corridor? Other construction projects underway across OP are creating a far denser environment, and perhaps in the end the greatest benefit to the parcels along Madison would be to compensate for this by opening up green space elsewhere. I dunno, this ain't a perfect solution, but at least I didn't charge the village 361,000 for yet another scheme that will end up going nowhere.

Julie Spyrison from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 8:43 AM

I live at the corner of Madison and Kenilworth and I am excited by this proposal. I've lived here since 1999 and it is depressing driving down Madison with all the empty storefronts. Hope it happens!!!

John Lattyak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2016 8:42 AM

I agree with Paul this plan is crazy. All it will succeed in doing is to bring traffic to a crawl on Madison and force drivers over to Washington, Jackson or cut through the neighborhoods. How is that good for business? This just adds more traffic gridlock to Oak Park. How about spending this money on the neighborhoods. Maybe instead of replacing the ash trees being cut down with twigs, the village could opt for something more substantial. How about accelerating the infrastructure replacement and paving more neighborhood streets and alleys etc.

Johanna Brocker from River Forest   

Posted: April 20th, 2016 7:20 AM

Forest Park ruined Madison Street with a design which hinders traffic, parking and shopping. A huge mistake for a Villiage which gets business right.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 10:56 PM

An overview look down on the proposed road change would be very helpful here. Exactly what sites would diminish and which expand?

David Schuster  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 8:36 PM

Looks like this replace the gym on Madison east of Euclid, and the parking lot/garage across the street, right?

James West  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 8:19 PM

Brian Slowiak, the Village leader is not saying who wants the corner. There is a lot of building going on in Oak Park, now. That means a lot of money is being moved around.

Steve Loranz from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 7:01 PM

I just opened a business in Oak Park. They don't make it and endless cycle of bureaucracy and are very helpful in shepherding new businesses through the processes that maintain a high standard we all enjoy as residents and village stakeholders. The Oak Park stretch of Madison street has been in need of attention for decades and now is being given priority to update infrastructure that will incentivize redevelopment and revitalization for a major section of our village.

Richard Fischer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 6:04 PM

I would like to see a total of how much Oak Park has spent on studies in the last 25 years and the percentage of them that proceeded to completion. I also wonder about the improvements the village could have completed with all the 'study money' that has disappeared down the bottomless pit.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 5:54 PM

What is the name of the store or business that will move in? Pay for the study and hope for a tenant? Rather, find the tenant and build from their needs.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 5:04 PM

Is there somewhere to park all those nice foreign cars in the picture?

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 4:32 PM

The photo looks like a take off on Elmhurst"s redesign about a decade ago. I remember Pope slamming the design. I wouldn't worry too much about parking. Doubt there will be a lot of traffic.

Simone Boutet from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 3:43 PM

I'm a neighbor and I think its creative and cool. There aren't many options to revitalize obsolete commercial strips when the parcels are so narrow.

Jane Moore from river forest  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 3:35 PM

i wonder if the developer might not share the cost of the plan, rather than the village paying for the whole amount. And maybe exploring the policies and procedures in place in forest park that facilitate their thriving businesses growth would be worthwhile.

Richard Fischer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 3:31 PM

Forest Park is not kicking our butt because their Madison St is narrower. Businesses go there because taxes are lower and the town is more welcoming and helpful to people opening burinesses there. The town doesn't make it feel like an unending process trying to open a business there.

Paul Obis from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2016 2:45 PM

Is this place crazy or what? Spend nearly $400,000 to study a plan to narrow the street? Let the spending chill out for a while. We can leave the present situation where it is. It's working. Nothing needs to be fixed or "improved" with our taxpayer dollars.

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