The Oak Park Board of Trustees was set to approve a contract for up to $57,100 to study the Oak Park Arts District on Harrison Street earlier this month, but the idea was tabled at the request of business owners in the area.
Laura Maychruk, who serves as president of the Oak Park Arts District Business Association and is the owner of Buzz Café, told trustees at their June 5 board meeting that it makes no sense to spend the money on a consultant when the funds could be used for direct improvements to the district.
The board agenda item to hire Evanston-based urban planning consultant Teska Associates to update a development plan completed in 2003 originally had been placed on the board's consent agenda along with items typically approved without discussion.
But the Arts District consulting item was removed and placed on the regularly agenda for discussion at the request of Trustee Deno Andrews, who argued that any investment in the arts district should first include input from business owners there and the business association headed by Maychruk.
Maychruk said in a telephone interview that she learned about plans for the study on June 1, when she randomly met someone from Teska Associates who was walking around the arts district and engaged her in conversation.
"We just learned about this study maybe on Thursday," Maychruk told the board of trustees. "I was able to briefly discuss this with our board on Friday, and the general consensus is that if you read the 2003 study, not very much has changed, and we feel like this money could be better spent on things that we actually need instead of studying us again."
Andrews said at the June 5 meeting that the Oak Park Board of Trustees should defer investment until they get input and "buy in" from the business association.
"I don't think we know the street like they know the street," Andrews said.
Trustee Andrea Button agreed, saying, "I'm in favor of investing in Harrison Street, but I don't know if it needs to be like this. I think a more direct investment could be worthwhile."
Andrews said the top barrier for artists moving into a space there is the high cost.
"If we want artists to move into the neighborhood, we need to find a way to lower the cost and lower that barrier to entry for artists to move in; otherwise, it's never going to be conducive to a vibrant art scene because they're going to go elsewhere."
He called on Maychruk and her group to come up with 10 ideas on how to spend the money, rather than contracting another study.
The last study, conducted by students from the University of Illinois College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs in 2003, cost the village about $130,000, according to Village Planner Craig Failor.
Maychruk said in a telephone interview that her business group will discuss the issue at their next meeting and come up with a proposal for how to spend the money.
She said that she thought commissioning murals and permanent sculptures could be a good use of the funds to better identify the area as an arts district.
"I'm looking forward to having a conversation with the trustees to enhance the arts district instead of studying it," she said. "I'm grateful that they listened."
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