A multimillion-dollar overhaul of Lake Street from Harlem Avenue to Austin Boulevard is set to begin in 2020, and the village is preparing a public relations campaign to keep businesses and the public informed about the project.
The Prescott Group, a public relations firm, and representatives of TranSystems Corporation presented the Oak Park Board of Trustees a preliminary look at its website (www.betterlakestreet.com) at the July 8 board meeting.
As the streetscape project gets underway, the website will be populated with information about street closures, parking and other information "to minimize the impact that construction will have on the businesses," according to the village.
The project was originally scheduled to begin this year but was pushed back to 2020.
Prescott Group principal Jim Prescott told trustees his group has been working with TranSystems and the village, along with the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations, to prepare for the streetscaping project.
He said Prescott is working to get the message out that "Lake Street is open for business" during the project and that the work will ultimately mean a better Lake Street for residents and visitors.
"Two-way communication" is the group's first goal, Prescott said.
The most recent update on the website, posted on July 7, notes that "traffic signal work will begin next week to reconfigure and upgrade the existing signal and lighting system on the northwest corner [of Forest and Lake] for future improvements."
The installation of temporary traffic signals could result in minor delays through the intersection due to the work, according to the website.
Prescott said his group also will begin distributing informational cards that merchants can provide to customers on the forthcoming project. They'll also be handing out information that business owners can place in their windows to alert shoppers.
"We're also working with Downtown Oak Park to look at [putting up] banners during Thursday Night Out," Prescott said, referencing the weekly fair on Marion Street during the summer.
"We're trying to push that message out," he said. "We're still several months away from the actual work starting, but it's to our advantage to get the word out."
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla noted the recent closure of Prairie Bread Kitchen at 103 N. Marion St., whose owner said high-rise construction in the area contributed to his restaurant losing business.
She asked if the outreach efforts have been implemented and successful in other communities.
Prescott said successful public outreach campaigns have been employed in Winnetka, downtown Elgin and elsewhere.
He said his group will soon go door to door visiting downtown businesses to update them about the website and outreach information. "If they've got a concern about access to their storefront, they'll know who to contact," Prescott said.
Trustee James Taglia said that as a former business owner on Lake Street, merchants are under a lot of pressure because of not just the streetscape project but also rising property taxes, and an increase in the minimum wage.
"That's a lot for people to absorb all at once," he said.
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