The Business of Business Districts: Part 5 – State of the Districts

OP Biz Pic LinkedInThis post originally appeared on September 21, 2015

Oak Park’s twelve business districts require twelve leadership teams for marketing, advocacy and communication.  How are they faring?

Downtown Oak Park, our primary shopping district, leads the pack in terms of structure and impact.  With professional staff, terrific marketing, professional maintenance and fabulous events, DTOP demonstrates how Special Services Area (SSA) funding brings real value.

Three volunteer-run districts are making it work, with active boards, decent websites and organized activities.  North Avenue Business Association (NABA) stays connected to local officials and businesses on both sides of the street. It organizes events like this weekend’s “Clean Up The NABA-hood.”  NABA focuses on business issues, leaving residential advocacy to the Oak Park’s North Avenue Neighbor’s Association.

Hemingway and the Oak Park Arts District, formerly the Avenue Association and the Harrison Street Neighborhood Organization, respectively, are two long-standing business organizations.  They currently enjoy active volunteers, vocal and engaged leaders and signature events.

Two corridor districts, Roosevelt Road and the Madison Street, demonstrate how volunteer engagement correlates to issues.  When Roosevelt Road was getting its makeover, RRBA led an active team across Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero.  Today, a much smaller group oversees the street and spearheads events like the Zombie Walk.  Madison Street business owners meet monthly, but lately have more to discuss given the Village’s focus on development along that corridor.

The commercial areas in Southtown and Pleasant District today are struggling to find volunteer leaders.  District management takes time and resources.  Currently, both are working with the Chamber of Commerce to investigate outsourcing administrative and communication functions.

The four remaining micro-districts today lack management:  Garfield-Harlem (Autobarn Volvo dealership, Mohr Concrete and the few businesses along Garfield east to Home); Chicago-Austin and Chicago-Harlem (the barbell of commercial activity on either end of Chicago Avenue); and Lake (Ridgeland to Austin).  All four comprise successful businesses, but volunteer leadership could elevate the “neighborhood” into a vibrant “district.”

Districts claiming local business owners with time, experience and vision to move the district forward are fortunate, indeed.  But, as with all volunteer-based organizations, momentum ebbs and flows based on attention and available resources.


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