DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove ended the Ogden Avenue Site Improvement Strategy program (OASIS) this week after three years, Although funds for facade improvements and other redevelopments still will be available in the Ogden Avenue tax increment financing fund, officials said.
OASIS earmarked a certain amount of money each year from the Ogden Avenue TIF – $250,000 in 2013 – for matching grants for site improvements such as building facades.
Ending OASIS means money still will be available, but interested parties will apply through the village’s standard redevelopment agreement process instead of an OASIS grant application.
“Grant programs have very specific categories and percentages of how the money would be granted,” Village Manager David Fieldman said in a phone interview Thursday. “In redevelopment agreements you can use TIF dollars in a variety of ways, as allowed under the TIF laws.
“The important message here is that we are continuing to invest in development and redevelopment along Ogden Avenue.”
The Village Council voted unanimously Aug. 20 to end the program.
Village officials and business owners along Ogden Avenue lauded the program, which approved grants to 17 businesses along the strip.
“It changed my life,” said Jay Defrates, owner of Jay’s Plumbing, 1509 Ogden Ave.
His business, which is set back from the road, used an OASIS grant to add a sign closer to Ogden Avenue about eight months ago.
“Since we’ve had the sign, the response from the good people of Downers Grove has been tremendous,” he said.
Defrates thinks the Ogden Avenue business climate is improving, but it still needs more work.
“Certain parts are definitely not pedestrian-friendly,” he said.
Cynthia Senicka, co-owner of A-Len Automotive Service Center, another Ogden Avenue business that received a grant, similarly praised the program.
Cynthia and her husband, Leonard Senicka, have owned A-Len at the corner of Ogden and Fairview avenues since 1985. She said the village approached them with the prospect of using a grant to refurbish the building’s exterior.
The project replaced the brick and siding exterior along with windows, doors and landscaping. It also removed curb cuts that were no longer up to code.
The village contributed $93,750 to the $350,000 cost. It finished last August.
“The amount of community input and people who physically stopped in here for the last six months to say how beautiful it was – they couldn’t believe the transition of the corner and what it did for the community,” she said.
She too hopes to see more improvements on Ogden Avenue.
“You definitely know the people who haven’t done the improvements because Ogden Avenue is pretty antiquated,” she said. “We ourselves were guilty of it. There hasn’t been enough of it, it has to multiply to see any kind of a real difference.”
The last two businesses to be approved for the partial-matching grants were Dunkin’ Donuts, which will receive $100,000, and still is finishing work, and Mr. Trim, which will receive $86,775.
After the completion of those two projects, the village will have doled out about $488,392 through OASIS. Matching investment by private business totaled about $1.3 million, according to village documents.
Mayor Martin Tully said at the Aug. 13 council meeting that when OASIS was started three years ago, the poor economy limited redevelopment opportunities, and the program was a way to encourage property owners to take advantage of the available TIF funds through smaller projects. As the economy has slowly recovered, the village can start looking at the big, catalytic projects again, he said.
“Redevelopment opportunities are coming up again,” he said.
Fieldman said using redevelopment agreements as the funding mechanism, instead of grant applications, allows the village more flexibility.
“This really reflects a return to public infrastructure and catalytic redevelopment partnerships … big projects that have a big impact on our bottom line in terms of sales tax and property tax that also serve to spark reinvestment around them,” he said during the Aug. 13 council meeting.