Revived Oak Park condo project part of Pleasant District kick-start
The unfinished condo development at South Boulevard and Home Avenue in Oak Park includes three buildings in various stages of construction and a cinderblock elevator tower. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:22AM
OAK PARK — It’s been an eventful and at times daunting three years for the Pleasant District just south of Downtown Oak Park. But things are looking up for 2013.
In 2010 and 2011, the district endured the total reconstruction of the 100 and 200 blocks of Marion Street. During the same period, Mill Park, widely considered the district’s back yard, was renovated.
While those were scheduled inconveniences, the soaring expectations for two upscale, transit-oriented mixed-use developments in the Pleasant District fell to earth with a thud during the fall of 2008 as the recession took hold. They are the SoHo at South Boulevard and Home Avenue, and the Morningside development at South Boulevard and Harlem Avenue.
With the $5.4 million Marion Street streetscape complete, and Mills Park and Pleasant Home renovated, news of movement on the SoHo development at South Boulvard and Home Avenue has people feeling positive.
At the Jan. 22 village board meeting, Village Manager Cara Pavlicek informed trustees that the bank holding the mortgage on the partially complete SoHo development is currently talking with five parties interested in acquiring the property and finishing development.
That’s music to the ears of business owners and residents in the area.
Pleasant District Association President Carla Gini said completion of the SoHo “would be a dream come true for the district.”
She said Pleasant District Association board members have heard there’s interest in existing street-level retail space in the SoHo.
“I’ve heard nothing but excitement about the gears getting back in motion on the SoHo,” Gini said. She said the transit-oriented developments in her district and at South Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue “symbolize a new era of Oak Park economic development.”
But while any benefits from a resurrected SoHo are at least 18 months off, Gini and others are also buoyed by what they see as a new and improved South Marion Street area. At the Pleasant District Association annual meeting Jan. 17 at the Carleton Hotel, members were anxious to reap the benefits of the extensive infrastructure investment.
“Eat, drink and be Pleasant,” Gini told her audience in welcome. “New street, new park, new businesses and a new attitude. The finished product just keeps getting better.”
Former village trustee and YMCA Executive Director Jan Pate sat chatting with new village manager Cara Pavlicek. Pate, who said she’s looking forward to the positive effects of “a more cohesive and robust economy” in 2013, said the YMCA is pleased with the results of the infrastructure improvements.
“From the Y’s standpoint, we feel we’re an anchor of the district, where people enter or leave, depending on direction. I’ve seen a real spirit of imagination and enthusiasm (recently).”
Addressing the association, current trustee and village president candidate John Hedges expressed similar optimism both for the economy and the village in general.
After many challenges the past fours years, Hedges said, “I think we’re coming out of it probably a much stronger village than we’ve been in the past.”
Oak Park Business Services Manager Loretta Daly characterized the Pleasant District Association, formerly the South Marion District, as “a fairly dormant organization that is really taking off.”
Pate, an ardent physical fitness proponent, lauded the new bike-friendly program the Pleasant District was launching.
“Oh, I’d love it,” Pate said. “I’m totally supportive of that.”
Abigail Miller of Greenline Wheels, 105 S. Marion, wanted to be clear: Being bike-friendly doesn’t mean “bike lanes everywhere, spandex and no cars allowed.”
What it does mean, is an improved environment for both residents, shoppers and employees.
“We as a business community embrace cycling. It relives parking frustrations, it increases (business) visibility,” she said. “Bicyclists, like pedestrians, provide more eyes and an environment that is safer, friendlier and more vibrant.”
Quoting a study in Quebec City, Canada, Miller said tourists who ride bikes instead of driving spent on average $66 more over a three-day period.
Gini said she’s excited about evens planned for the upcoming spring, summer and fall seasons.
“Let’s get this party started with the Pleasant District,” she said.