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North Avenue reinvented

Opinion: Editorials

February 13th, 2018 1:22 PM

By Editorial

Our Views

Good things and good possibilities keep happening along North Avenue. And we're talking both sides of this state highway from Oak Park to River Forest, from Chicago to Elmwood Park.

Last week we reported on the likely deal to bring a hard cider brewery, 2 Fools Cider,  to a formerly derelict site the village government of Oak Park had reclaimed out of foreclosure. This week we report that a "preferred developer" has been chosen for the vacant behemoth that once was Sears at Harlem and North. A preferred developer is a long piece from new life and new tax dollars, but it is a necessary step in the reclamation process. And there may be a new residential project on the mammoth site of the old Charter One Bank on the north side of the street.

Going west, there is River Forest's proposal for a North Avenue TIF. A series of three public meetings take place next week to answer questions from both residents and business owners. We'd certainly anticipate the TIF will be approved by local taxing bodies in the near future. While TIFs have been exploited in some municipalities, while they are complex and municipalities have too often worked to avoid transparency, they remain a key tool to foster economic development.

Based on its history with TIFs on Lake Street and also on Madison Street, we have confidence that River Forest will ably manage a North Avenue TIF. 

That said, whether it is through TIFs or private development, local governments need to spur change on North Avenue. The 1950s version of North Avenue from Austin to Thatcher is littered with obsolete uses. Small medical offices, third-rate retail storefronts, pretty ghastly and increasingly vacant strip malls, and a hodge-podge of residential multifamily are not the cohesive future of this underdeveloped thoroughfare.  

Kudos also to River Forest and Elmwood Park officials for their joint application for an IDOT grant to fund new streetscape on North from Harlem to Lathrop. The villages expect to hear if they've won the grant lotto by this spring. That work — planters lighting, curb bump-outs — would be in support of two standout North Avenue successes, the Restaurant Row in Elmwood Park and the still-new Fresh Thyme grocery store in River Forest.

For the first time in decades there is momentum on North Avenue. It is driven by refreshing collaboration between Oak Park officials and the new city alderman representing Galewood and Austin. The emergence of a determined citizen and business group called the North Avenue District has linked concerns across this busy street. The shared efforts of Elmwood Park and River Forest are also encouraging.

North Avenue, for all its traffic, needs to be more than a speed route to Elmhurst. We believe this street's long decline is about over.