Trustees agree Oak Park's Arts Business District needs action plan

The 'shoestring district'

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Years ago, the Lakota Group was tasked with preparing an urban design plan for Oak Park's Arts District. Following a tour of the district, 18 points were noted as areas for improvement.

They included unifying the district through streetscape and lighting, signage updates, addition of a gathering space, CTA station enhancements, landscaping upgrades, improving the gateway at Austin and creating an overall sense of vibrancy.

That was 2007. Five years later, much of this village-approved plan has been left by the wayside. Like the rest of Oak Park, this district weathered the economic storm, but one factor created a unique situation that some village trustees say make it time to stop talking about plans and take action.

"This has gone on for too long," Trustee Ray Johnson said in a recent phone interview. The Arts District on Harrison Street hasn't received adequate attention, he said. "It's overdue for some really solid action planning."

The factor that makes it unique is the large chunk of parcels on Harrison Street that remain cradled in the hands of Chris Kleronomos, despite being tangled in foreclosure after he fell behind on a $3.5 million construction plan.

The facade restoration of 201 Harrison St., which collapsed in 2011, is complete, but the interior remains under construction. Although Kleronomos' properties prevent momentum from developing, trustees suggest a handful of low-cost options could mediate the situation as the vacant property woes work themselves out. A court-appointed receiver and a bank remain involved in the next steps.

Johnson said whether it is talking with financial institutions, building owners or business owners, there's work to be done that can start immediately during this interim period. He thinks getting moderate amounts of capital into the district can help immensely.

Simple tasks such as fixing planters, lights, and aesthetic features that have been neglected in recent years are a quick fix that everyone would agree could help, according to Johnson and Trustee Adam Salzman.

"We're not talking excessive costs here," Johnson said. "It's the broken-window theory."

Once the Kleronomos properties transfer to a new owner, the future of those buildings and the other nearby vacancies can be discussed. It's unclear what the time frame is for ownership transfer since the for-sale signs in the building's windows have been pulled.

Laura Maychruk, president of the Arts Business District, said she heard there was an error in the initial listing of the properties, but was unsure of other details. As far she knows, however, the bank does not have control of the properties yet.

Maychruk said she's open to any conversations with village leaders and gladly would welcome any assistance the village could provide, calling the area "a shoestring district."

What she would like to see from the village is implementing Lakota's plan as approved by the village board. While mindful of the poor economic timing when the plan passed, Maychruk said the village has the concepts in place to move forward.

Johnson suggests that having an informal public meeting in the arts district could be a good starting point for conversation, an action Maychruk said has never happened. In turn, the village may determine how to reevaluate how to involve itself in the district —without overstepping.

"The first step is getting an agreement to make the district more viable," Johnson said. "We need to make sure we are harnessing that."

Such a tactic shouldn't be unique to Harrison Street, he noted, as it could be implemented in any of the village's other 12 business districts that have an array of vacancies.

"The village board can play a more active role in supporting the district in its budget," Johnson said. "I'm not saying it's easy. This isn't easy. But at the same time we're making it harder not giving the full attention it needs."

Salzman agreed incorporating the business districts into the budgeting process is "a bit disjointed" because trustees often approve amendments to the budget after it's passed.

The private sector, he explained will have to deal with the delinquent landlord, but it's up to the village to fix up the street's look. By pooling the ideas of the business owners, the village's business development department and Oak Park Development Corporation, he thinks Harrison Street could be thriving again.

"It's the very definition of blight. It has several different vacancies," he explained about the district. "It's frustrating because there is such potential."

In recent years, he thinks discussions about planning have outweighed progress.

"We get so focused on very ambitious sorts of complicated processes," he said. "There are very simple things that we could do. We need to come back to earth a bit."

Evaluating development goals and getting back to the village's original plans for the district is needed sooner rather than later, Salzman said, and some of that may need to come directly from the village's budget so it doesn't issue more debt.

"These are things we really need to face up to," Salzman said. "We need to realize there are significant restrictions of tools," Salzman said, suggesting the need to be done in a more modest and targeted mode.

The Wonderwall Music Shoppe and Emporium, the most recent business leaving the district, packed up shop last weekend. The store isn't closing; rather it's relocating to a place closer to the owners' home, according to Maychruk. She confirmed Alabasta, a beauty salon and sustainable beauty product business that was housed next door, will be moving in.

Still, the handful of vacancies on the street, including one building where Johnson said the owner is leasing the rooftop for cell antennas to get tax breaks but has not filled the space. The village passed a vacant property ordinance about two years ago mainly for single-family homes, but Johnson said the case of Harrison Street, along with issues in other business districts, may support revisiting the idea of a commercial vacancy ordinance.

"I don't want to suggest it's a major issue, except for the fact so much property is languishing," Johnson said. "We don't have a real strong language plan. We need to come to terms with that in some shape or form."

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

50 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2012 9:16 PM

@What out Jackie Boy!, I don't care if "Q from Oak Park" thinks 9/11 was an inside job. @Hi-Q, if Greg Marcey is indeed Q from Oak Park, Greg has my personal email and cell phone address. I know him very well from his Trustee days. @Q from Oak Park, NOW YOU ARE REALLY acting like a child. Perhaps you should email me to see if the EMAIL is REAL. Yes, Q from Oak Park, I AM VERY REAL! You can ask Greg Marsey himself! Why don't you try it to see if that's my email. Test is out Q, YOUR MOVE!

What out Jackie Boy!  

Posted: July 30th, 2012 9:29 PM

Q is a "truther"...thinks 9/11 was an inside job!

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2012 8:54 PM

Jack Chalabian, you don't think just because you say you were there and the post was on W.J. that you actually were there. You could have sent that from anywhere. I didn't get your message so I was not able to send you an e-mail so you could send me an e-mail today. Of course that may not even be your e-mail address. It seems made up, Mr. Rescue 214


Posted: July 30th, 2012 7:48 PM

Q is former trustee Greg Marsey.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 9:20 PM

Q from Oak Park, my child, I know you're SO smart you can't read. Look at the time stamp; see what time I was there and base that on your statement. Um, my child, you didn't see me? Um, my child, understand this, you want to talk to me without acting like in a childish like behavior, send me your contact information (phone number, email, etc.) via this email, If you're serious, You will do it. I will get back to you first thing Monday morning. Your move!

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:29 PM

Jack Chalabian, why are you telling everyone that you showed up when you didn't. I'm going to leave because I have other things I need to get done.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 9:24 AM

Q, my child, you must wait. (To the rest of the readers, this is amusing me by exchanging pettiness words that really doesn't contribute ONE IOTA of significance to the Arts District article). But given that Q has called me "as one of the not so smart people of Oak Park", I'll just keep on amusing myself and continue to post.) By the way Q from Oak Park, Im here. Not Pope or Johnson is with me. Im waiting for you ro show up at the Depo right now.. its 9:25 am

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:21 AM

Jack Chalabian, if that is your real name, thank you for taking 3 postings to talk about Q. If you are going to the American Diner Depot, you are going to have a problem. There is no American Diner Depot. Go to the Depot American Diner on Roosevelt. You get things mixed up like Pope and Raymond. Maybe you are Pope or Raymond.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:11 AM

. I will be at the American Diner Depot in Chicago at 9:00 am. Look-up the address, I'll be there!

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:10 AM

Q from Oak Park, you have shown exactly what I have been saying about you for the last several strings, you REALLY have nothing of value with the exception that you hope somebody will listen to you. You are like a child that needs ALL of the attention. Here's the deal, nobody is REALLY listening to you. Until you have something that's concrete in substance, you'll just complain and most people will just hear you. Yes, Q there's a difference between listening and hearing.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:05 AM

YOU WANT TO RUN for Trustee, but know you're going to lose to the VMA...DING, DING, DING!! Jack, you are correct!!!! Q from Oak Park, you have shown exactly what I have been saying about you for the last several strings, you have REALLY nothing of value to say with the exception that somebody will listen to you. You are like a child that needs ALL of the attention.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2012 12:01 AM

WOW Q from Oak Park, how do you know I was not there? DID YOU REALLY know I wasn't there? Um.....Q from Oak Park, Jack doesn't think YOU WERE THERE! Wait, WHY IS Jack Chalabian talking to an imaginative person who refuses to disclose their real name. Um....perhaps you are still hiding from the rest of the smart Oak Parkers. No, that's not it. You have nothing better to do with your life than vilify Oak Parkers...Naw, that's not it. Oh wait, Jack knows....YOU WANT TO RU

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 5:29 PM

Jack Chalabian, You didn't notice I was at the Buzz but you didn't show.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 4:36 PM

Jack - Thanks for the e's. Excellent clarification. Focusing on your last post. I will be supporting candidates, working for their election if they want help, and continue to raise and address issues that I think are critical to the village. One of my major objectives is to increase the number of registered voters show up at the polls in April. It is a disgrace that less than 20% of reg. voters actually vote. The name of the game from now to next April is connections and issues. Regards

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:31 PM

To John <continued> The challenge for you will be, will you formally support candidate(s) to run against the VMA? If the answer is yes, then the Arts District will be a campaign issue. Support that resources are allocated! If the answer is no, then one must ask, why are you posting comments all of time and thinking the result will be any different?

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:29 PM

To John <continued> If this is another "election" ploy by our officials, then let's call them out on it. I understand people like Q from Oak Park and sometimes even you John, COMPLAIN, or make statements how "bad" it is, but nothing really gets changed. If Oak Parkers are really upset at the VMA, President Pope, Trustee Johnson and others, when the election roles around next April, will you be there?

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:25 PM

To John <continued> which you know comes from the TIF, the Arts District can't match those type of funds. That said, at least two of the Trustees are making the statement, "NOW! that the district needs resources". I would argue that some of the Lakota plan was far reaching. However, sometime done is better than nothing done at all. If the board is committed to some participatory action, then I support their endeavor!

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:22 PM

To John <continued> As far as the plan for the Arts District, I know that Lakota developed the plans back in 2007. I personally know several individuals from that firm. Your right, the village did not allocate the resources back due to budget constraints. But, if you recall, the Arts District leadership didn't want to redo the streetscaping and only wanted the village to allocate marketing dollars, which I believe was $30,000. Given the recession and the village allocating resources to DT

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:21 PM

John, First of all, I agree that without solving the debt issue and dealing with the budget over a long period is needed. If this is not done first, any plan to make comprehensive changes in the Arts District will remain one big pipe dream. I understand that DTOP has influence what type of resources is being allocated from the Village Board. Your right, the village has made it a priority to get the DTOP master plan completed to the "T" first.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:02 PM

To Q from Oak Park <continued> The question should be, WHY ARE YOU RESPONDING TO MY POSTS? OH SMART Q, WHY WOULD YOU DO SUCH A THING? Makes one to think where your intelligence ranks with mine? If you have half the courage, meet me in person at the Buzz. I'll at least listen to you what your stand on local government issues w/o your ranting in this forum. Perhaps, you can expedite my learning curve and help me understand what the malfunction really is that goes down in the Village of OP.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 11:54 AM

Q from Oak Park, now you're REALLY talking (and I'm not speaking about the one that uses your mouth on your face)!!! What you can't see (of course, because your opening up on the "wrong" end), is that there are smart people who can handle solving this issue and help the trustees make the right decision on what type of investments the Arts District should have. Your right, I'm "not one of the smart Oak Parker's."

Deng Xiaoping   

Posted: July 28th, 2012 6:26 AM

A developer would be crazy to invest money in this area. The way the Village dictates the use of your property is like building in Tiananmen Square.

Of Course  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 4:35 AM

Animal Care League store, Vals Halla, Trattoria 225, East Gate Cafe, Breijo, The glass blowing place, Got rid of NA location, The new theater on Ridgeland, The new Dr Offices on Ridgland and Harrison, all the new Art gallery and shops, all the new residential condos, Buzz Cafe, Mamami, the new entrance way signs, the new crosswalks, .........and on and on. You are right, the Village has done nothing for the Arts district.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 1:00 AM

OP Guy - I agree 100%. I always take a ride through the Art district rather than using Jackson or Madison. It takes longer but has a peaceful feeling that is worth it. I am very pro-Art District, but extremely concerned about the forward thinking capability of the board. In 2007, they approved a Lakota plan for the Art District in a year when major cuts were made in the village. Could the board have anticipated the economic decline that was coming. Yep! All they had to do is pay attention to national housing prices -- they were collapsing. Of course, if our board had noticed the housing bust, it would have said, "Can't happen to us!" Take a look at the Dow Jones ten year line chart ( Then begin trying to figure out where the village is going to find money for a Art District Revival and the continuance of the DTOP follies.

OP GUy  

Posted: July 28th, 2012 12:36 AM

The district has so much doing for it and needs to be developed with smart ideas. It's a street many people I know take once they exit 290, as the drive up it is more pleasant than driving up Austin, and that's an advantage not to be squandered. We need vibrancy so all those Oak Parkers and non-Oak Parkers passing through feel like they NEED to stop or come back to check out what they're missing. As it stands, there are some great places with moments of blight in between.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 11:53 PM

Jack - one more thought. I hope the Art District has really old leading sewers. The board's new priority system for development is that projects (Marion So., Lake Street Tiger, etc) are required to have serious or dangerous sewers. That way, the village maintenance budget (and Fed money) can be used to justify red bricks.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 11:45 PM

Jack - The village spent a chunk of money with Lakota to re-design the Art District. All that resulted was another set of OP plan drawings that were not used. The Lakota contract for re-design was approved by the board despite the fact that 2007 was a year of $3M budget cuts to village staff costs and a cut in funding for all partner agencies. It is fine to be hopeful that the village has money to spend on the Art District, but do you think that the Art District will get priority on funding versus DTOP. I don't. I think is also worthwhile to remember that there are eight other business districts that had funding cut in 2007 and require investments. The village is broke - that is it does not have reserves to do any development programs without adding to its already high debt. Without a comprehensive budget plan for the next five years, I would not get my hopes up that anything meaningful other than DTOP within the next few years. Board members can promise anything as long as no one asks where the money is coming from.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 10:31 PM

JBMNN, Pope and Raymond didn't revitalize Marion and Lake street. It's the same people walking around and some sweet shops that people take comfort in eating.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 10:27 PM

Jack Chalabian, you are not one of the smart Oak Parker's and that's why things stay the same. It wasn't a question I posed, it was a statement.


Posted: July 27th, 2012 9:28 PM

I hate to break the news to you, BUT the Arts District is NOT DTOP. They are 2 distinct different destinations. Give credit to DTOP and VOP for revitalizing Marion and Lake St. Now maybe someone at the Art District can step up and try to do the same thing. Street fests would be a first. be creative....its the art district for gods sake.

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 5:57 PM

To the Trustees/President/Staff of the Village of Oak Park who are reading the string of comments, you have a choice to make. Make the commitment to provide resources to the Arts District, which will in turn foster a fantastic place to visit or merely talk about making it a great place to visit for another five years. At least there's a discussion about doing something within the Arts District. That's a start, but certainly not the end of this story!

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 5:48 PM

Q from Oak Park, I'm very glad that you posed that question. Are you going to keep your mouth WIDE open and continue to complain about the local politicians "ruining" Oak Park or plan on running as a Trustee in 2013 or better yet. Help to field candidates to run the VMA? Umm.....given your CIA status not to disclose your real name, I'll bet my money on option one..... Either way, at the end of the day, nobody REALLY cares what you write in this forum. Action speaks louder than words!

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 3:26 PM

Jack Chalabian, if there were some smart people in the community, they would be smart enough to vote Pope and Raymond out, and anyone else who doesn't get in line with what Oak Park wants.

Harrison Street Neighbor  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 12:50 PM

The village has been pussy-footing around the dilapidated Kleronomos properties for at least 25 years (or whenever the grocery store that took over the Pan's site was shut down). Southeast Oak Park needs a vibrant, bustling, fun street like Harrison could be -- and places like Eastgate Cafe, the Buzz, Val's, Open Door Repertory and every business in between deserve it just as much as the neighborhood and the village need it.

Harrison Street Neighbor  

Posted: July 27th, 2012 12:47 PM

Why didn't the story follow up on the new "For Rent" signs that have appeared in the last week in some of the Kleronomos buildings? And thank goodness for Laura Maychruk, but why quote her about what she "heard" may have happened to the "For Sale" listings, rather than going straight to the source? Even if the attempts at getting answers garner only a "no comment," that's important to state, too. The situation is appalling, and the village's hand-wringing comments are just that -- comm

Jack Chalabian from Oak Park  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 9:31 PM

Here are some suggestions: 1) Trustees, put some money into the district not just some "identity markers" or "painted crosswalks"! 2) Have an open dialogue with the public and REALLY listen to them! There are a whole bunch of smart people who live in this community that can offer you (the trustees) some good advice without having to hire consultants! 3) Don't let the naysayers shine within this blog forum or at any public participated format!

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 5:41 PM

If I remember the ugly crosswalks were Mr. Barwin's idea and now he is gone. The Home Juice building has been vacant for many years and now I saw another business on Cuyler and Harrison packing up and leaving! Again to the Village Board, you need to address this area, all of you!


Posted: July 26th, 2012 3:56 PM

@JBM. Your 3:20 post - I had the same thoughts. What we need is Board Members that don't continue to extend their terms beyond any previous ones. I'm fairly certain that Pope and Johnson are easily the longest serving Board members since the VMA began around 60 years ago. Don't they have a life outside of this? Would I be happy if they hadn't been on the Board during BK times and no achievements? Maybe, but spending a lot of money on Marion is NOT an "achievement." Nice guys, but it's time to go

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 3:20 PM

Q - I agree that Pope, Johnson, the VMA and all their associates have little concern for any businesses but those in DTOP. The sudden surge in interest being shown has everything to do with the 2013 election. OP is a low voter turnout town. One of the power organization that can deliver votes is the business community. The non-DTOP businesses have been ignored for at least eight years, so the politicians put their DTOP dream aside for a while and switch to their Promise Business Strategy. Will it work? If you believe the board based politician are the more clever; they will. If you think the business leaders are more clever, and I do, they will sense the scam and ask the board to produce money for the projects as well as promises.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 2:12 PM

M on Ridgeland, Pope and Raymond have never cared about the business district. They like to waste your money on things they like. That area could have become obsolete if it wasn't for the dedication of businesses to meet the area residents needs. That is part of what Oak Park is suppose to be about. It's small communities throughout Oak Park, not just Pope's and Raymond's designated area. Vote Pope and Raymond out. Let the community know.

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 1:53 PM

The Village Board is a joke! You all over looked this area after what it has been thru! Shame on you! This area has a lot of opportunity that is being wasted. After what silly things you have spent money on in this area- Ugly Crosswalks for one. Our tax dollars need to be wisely spent to bring this area back to life PLEASE!

Liz Gaylord from oak park  

Posted: July 26th, 2012 9:50 AM

Support from the village is needed, but not all of OPAD is blight. Walk east of Lombard, down to Austin & you will find some great art galleries, studios & more. Harrison Works art gallery, at 17 Harrison, just renewed a lease with OP Residence Corp.- a landlord committed to Harrison Street- & will be celebrating their 10th year. Even more amazing: Art Gecko, at 19, & Harrison Work are open weekly Thurs. -Sun. In September, HW will celebrate with a retrospective show opening Sept. 21st.

Typical OP from OP  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 11:06 PM

No, Chik-Fil-A will just go to Berwyn and set up shop on Madison Street. Along with Target and other companies that apparently someone doesn't think are gay-friendly enough to locate in Oak Park, so they just go to the next town over and make us all drive and give that town tax dollars instead. We believe in business development in OP, except that we don't (anyone recall Lane Bryant and how someone didn't want fat chick clothes here?)

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 11:00 PM

Comedy, Chic-Fil-a,would first need to go through Pope and Raymond for their approval.


Posted: July 25th, 2012 10:56 PM

Perhaps a Chic-Fil-a?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 7:44 PM

For those interested, the Lakota 2007 Plan for the Art District can be found at Plan/Oak Park - Arts District Plan - Final.pdf

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 2:01 PM

Absolutley something needs to be done! Here's some suggestions: brick streets, heated sidewalks, stone patios, a mega-story high-rise. Can you say consultant contract? Government money? TIF? Guess since Lake St. isn't panning out, time to find a new project.

julieOP from Oak Park  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 1:51 PM

How 'bout letting the previous businesses back in for starters?! The neighborhood peeps keep requesting from current store owners when that corner space in the photo is going to re-open. Wouldn't it be nice if the previous businesses in that condemned building started being able to earn $$ again ... after a year?!

Oak Park Arts District Support from Oak Park  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 1:33 PM

As a long time supporter and resident of Oak Park. It would be great to see this actually happen. I am not holding my breath as many things have been promised and not realized. I think it's in everyone's best interest to have a vibrant busy sale tax paying Art District. I commend Trustees Ray Johnson and Adam Salzman for acting on the citzens concerns that they heard in forums while running for trustee. You actually listened and we appreciate that.

paul from oak park  

Posted: July 25th, 2012 12:46 PM

Maybe Kleronomos hocked our street sweeper?

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2018

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad