More family-friendly restaurants. More entertainment. A more walkable and bike-friendly business district with a fresh, modern look.
Those ideas and others for the commercial district along Western Avenue were discussed at a community meeting hosted by UrbanMain, a program of the National Main Street Center.
UrbanMain, in collaboration with the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association (MPBHBA), recently conducted a community survey to assess how the Western Avenue business district from 99th to 111th streets could be improved, and about 25 people attended a follow-up meeting on Oct. 23 at Smith Village, where UrbanMain Director Dionne Baux provided a “framework” of potential improvements.
She said she was impressed by how attendees engaged her with new ideas, and she will continue to work with the community.
“I understand that people are skeptical—they’re always skeptical about some of the frameworks that are coming in,” Baux said. “But, the number of people who were like, ‘I want to be a part of it—I want to be a part of the change, and I’m willing to help make change by stepping up,’ that was amazing to me.”
The meeting included officials from the MPBHBA and the Beverly Area Planning Association, local business owners, and residents who have been engaged in community projects.
In a survey that drew 916 responses—which Baux said was her best response ever—participants answered questions on the attitude toward and perception of Western Avenue, which businesses they patronize, desired business types, district challenges and shopping habits.
In choosing three words that describe Western Avenue, participants picked “bar” as the top choice, with “busy,” “restaurant,” “old” and “parks” also chosen.
Attendees said local residents want more dining options—including a fine dining restaurant where they could enjoy a glass of wine.
A “future visioning of an ideal corridor setting” included ethnic restaurants and liquor licenses for businesses on the east side of Western Avenue, where the sale of alcohol has been prohibited for many decades.
Survey participants, Baux said, also want entertainment options “outside of bars.”
“They saw so much opportunity in the district,” Baux said, “but it’s kind of outdated and stuck in the past.”
According to its website, UrbanMain “offers a new set of community-driven economic-development services to help under-resourced older and historic neighborhood commercial districts restore economic vitality and promote quality of life.”
Launched in 2015 by the National Main Street Center, UrbanMain is based in Chicago and was established in 1980 as a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization.
Moving forward, UrbanMain will host a Main Street 101 training session, with a date to be announced, as well as continue to identify projects and establish budgets for potential improvements
on Western Avenue.
Baux, a Chicago native, has worked for UrbanMain for three years and formerly worked for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago.
She said UrbanMain has helped other business districts in cities, including Washington, D.C., and she sees potential in Beverly/Morgan Park.
“I’ve seen it work in other places,” she said. “Why can’t it work here?”
Baux first met MPBHBA Executive Director Caroline Connors three years ago while on staff with LISC.
Connors said Baux—and community members—can make a difference.
“I have a lot of faith in Dionne. There’s been success stories with this process,” Connors said. “I feel that one of the strengths of this neighborhood is our ability to come together to help people or to achieve a goal. I have a lot of faith in this community that, when we have a common goal, we can get people on board and work to achieve it.”
Baux said she is impressed that attendees eagerly joined committees to formulate ideas, and she said five projects were already formed.
Although organizers invited local elected officials to attend the meeting, none were able to attend. However, they have been involved, and Baux urged more local residents to join the effort.
“Caroline has a lot that she can build on, but I do believe that there should be more people, more organizations coming to the table to work with her,” Baux said, “because she can’t do this all by herself.”
Connors said the neighborhood has demonstrated an ability to work together in the past, and she believes residents will unite to improve an important commercial district.
“The thing that appeals to me with this process with UrbanMain is it’s community based, and that’s why I thought it would be successful in this neighborhood because we have such a strong community,” Connors said. “Just the fact that we got the most number of responses to the survey out of everyone is an indication that people are interested and do want to see some change.
“But, we need to do that because the city has a lot going on,” she said. “There are a lot of other neighborhoods that have far greater need than we do.
“So, if we want to see some change, we have to be the change.”
For more information on the survey, visit the MPBHBA website at mpbhba.org.