Businesses Eagerly Await New CTA Station

With the end of long quest a few months away, the Yellow Line stop stirs high hopes.

Last week, Skokie trustees approved a procedural matter in terms of the new Oakton Street stop on the CTA's Yellow Line. In and of itself, it was a relatively minor matter, but it was just one more step in completing the station that is expected to bring more pedestrian traffic to the village.

At the meeting, trustees amended the existing intergovernmental agreement between the village and the CTA to use unused fare collection equipment the CTA had at its disposal instead of going out and purchasing new equipment. Village officials think that this will result in a savings of about $171,000.

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This action represents just the latest twist in what is now a near decadelong odyssey to construct the Oakton station. It will be the first time there will be train traffic at the location since Harry Truman was the president.

The village and businesses have high hopes of the station drawing customers into downtown Skokie. In a sense, there is a back to the future element to this story as it is not the first time there has been a stop on Oakton.

According to the website Chicago-l.org, there was a public transportation stop at the Oakton Street site until 1948. But it was not used from 1948 to 1963, when the depot was demolished.

In 1964, the Skokie Swift line was created and provided direct service from Dempster Street in Skokie to Howard Street in Chicago. That has been the situation ever since, but in 2003 a village study recommended construction of a stop at Oakton was the best location to enhance potential downtown business development.

After grants were secured to continue the process of establishing a station, the other major factor in resurrecting the Oakton stop was the creation and development of the new on Searle Parkway, where 1,200 people have been working as of April.

“The technology workforce tends to prefer more urban housing choices," said Steve Marciani, a planner for the village. “This station provides rail access to homes on the lakefront in Chicago.”

The stop will mark the first new station for the CTA on any of its L lines since one was added to the Green Line in 2001.

Eventually, the cost of the Oakton station will be about $20 million. A federal highway administration grant will pay for $14 million of the project; the other $6 million will come from the village’s tax increment financing (TIF) coffers.

After the money was secured, a groundbreaking ceremony took place in June 2010 and construction began several months later. Skokie Public Works Director Max Slankard acknowledged that there were some anxious moments along the way at last week’s meeting--the station is expected to open in January. He estimated the project was 45 percent completed.

There is no way to know exactly how many people will use the station, but Marciani noted that every weekday 2,878 people took the train in June from the Dempster stop. An estimated 2,900 used the stop on weekends. That translates into 75,000 boardings a week at Dempster.

When the 2003 study was commissioned, there was a projection that at least 1,200 people would using the Oakton station, but that was before the Science and Technology Park was built.

Not surprisingly, the local business community is very excited pedestrian traffic as people walk to and from the new station. There will be opportunities for “kiss ‘n ride” and there will be car-sharing company parking and bus station stops. But unlike the Yellow Line at Dempster, there will be no parking lot.

“We do know it is a commuter station meant to bring people into the area,” said Howard Meyer, executive director of the Skokie Chamber of Commerce. “It is not going to be a large parking lot and we hope it will bring great development onto Skokie Boulevard in addition to the downtown area.”

Randy Miles, president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie, who has owned the Village Inn pub on Lincoln Avenue for 20 years, was a major proponent of the Oakton stop.

Miles believes there is a potential for an additional 6,500 jobs at the Science and Technology Park once the new station is completed.

On a personal level, Miles is also very excited since he suspects many of his customers will use the stop.

“Naturally, since my business services the quick-eat as well as a full-service restaurant and sports bar,” he said.

Then there is the perspective of Dana Kruger, the owner of Sweety Pies, a bakery on Lincoln Avenue where she has been operating in her current location for almost two years. Kruger is taking a wait-and-see approach on how the Oakton stop will affect her business.

“We are already open to hit the early crowd,” she said. “I’m hoping it will bring more people in during the hours we are currently open.  We will expand hours if necessary and if there seems to be a demand.”

As the sluggish economy has taken its toll on Skokie, most think the Oakton stop will do some good in terms of spiking interest in the village’s central business district.

“We’ve been hoping for a presence downtown,” Miles said. “It can be a point of departure and arrival to bolster the economic engine of downtown Skokie.”

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Frank August 08, 2011 at 01:11 PM
It's amazing to me that the Village administration feels this will help businesses in Downtown Skokie....the station will provide quick access in and out of the Village for people who work here and will have little or no effect on business. To not provide parking at the location will also mean quick drop off and pick up with no need to walk and shop and eat in the downtown zone. People who walk already know the few businesses operating in the village and won't promote any new business.....too bad.
Earl Weiss August 08, 2011 at 04:39 PM
The Sweety Pies owner has a realistic perspective. Time will tell. I really don't see people walking from the CTA stop to the village in or vica versa. This is a "pie in the Sky" non realistic parochial outlook by tree hugging anti automobile factions who fail to grasp business realities and the deterrent of dragging packages on public transportation and who see reducing cars as path to utopia.
Eugene Salganik August 08, 2011 at 06:08 PM
As long as people have a good reason to stop, eat, and shop in the down town area, they will. We should have a couple of good coffee shops, music, book stores with lectures, restaurants, upscale bars (look at Lincoln Square and Andersonville), etc. Only then we will have a vibrant down town area and plenty of reasons to be there.
mathmanbill August 10, 2011 at 03:27 AM
I can't comprehend why this should cost $20 million. One way to look at it would be to assume that $1.00 of each fare went toward the cost. Assuming that the projections hold, then it could be paid back (without interest) in a mere 45 years! The original station was used for less than 25 years.


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