Honor sought for business district

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By Kevin Beese

Although just a glimmer of what it once was, Maywood’s Fifth Avenue Business District could soon be back in the spotlight.

The once-bustling hub of activity from Quincy Street to Lake Street is being considered for historic designation. Members of the village’s Historic Preservation Commission are considering the Business District for one of its first honorary districts.

Commission members could soon pitch the Village Board to designate the Business District for the honorary recognition once an ordinance setting forth the process for nominating historic districts and streets is put in place.

The village-provided historic designation would not carry with it the tax incentives that the state-provided landmark status does, but it could be a preliminary step leading to that, commission members contend.

Vicki Haas, chairman of the commission, contends it would be better for the panel to focus its energy on telling business owners about the benefits of landmark status and trying to get them in that camp, but her fellow commission members have other thoughts.

The historic designation would include official recognition of the area and possibly banners or street signs noting the honor.

“Let’s do something,” commission member Matt Gauthier said at last week’s meeting. “Fifth Avenue is a high-traffic area. It may pique some interest in the area. This area is historic. There was a lot going on there. No one can take that away. It doesn’t hurt to start small.”

Gauthier said he has been a resident of the village for 14 years and has seen the pictures of how thriving the Fifth Avenue Business District was.

Up until the 1970s, Fifth Avenue had major retailers, including Sears and Montgomery Ward, and three movie theaters. However, when the village’s major employer, American Can Co., left in the ’70s, those retailers and much of the roadway’s activity uprooted as well.

“We need to get people discussing what’s best for the area,” commission member Kenneth Watkins said. “Landmark designation can follow.”

“This is where is starts,” he told fellow commission members about historic designation.

Watkins said historic designations could be a shot in the arm for the village.

“The goal is to spawn economic development, preserve the past and re-energize pride in this community,” he told the West Suburban Journal after the meeting.

Haas felt going for the historic designation prior to getting support for the landmark designation, which comes from a state panel, was putting the cart before the horse.

“We need collaboration with other entities,” Haas said.

Another area of the village being considered for historic designation is the formerly segregated section of town known as “Ebonyville.” When the village was founded in 1869, Ebonyville, bordered by 10th Avenue, Madison Street, 14th Avenue and St. Charles Road, was set aside for blacks and Jews.

Gauthier said giving designations to areas like the Fifth Avenue Business District and Ebonyville sends the message that more than just individual parcel have historical significance in the village.

“Development is dead. They want the communities with the malls,” Gauthier said. “There is not a lot that we have left. We have some structures that are historical, but a lot of what has historical significance are vacant lots and empty facades … Some type of recognition could get people thinking about the village of Maywood.”

Haas said the Village Board could grant the historic designations right now without any input from the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Anything we do we need to make sure it’s done right,” Haas said in lobbying for going the landmark designation route for the Business District. “Anything needs to be really well done. We need to be on really solid ground before going to the Village Board. We don’t have enough information.”

“We are pivoting to the historic district,” Watkins said, expressing the feeling of commission members to go with the village recognition for the Fifth Avenue Business District first.

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