CNU City Spotlight: Orland Park, IL: Putting the urban back into subURBAN!

Ryan Forst's picture

This post is part of a new series on the CNU Salons, CITY SPOTLIGHT. City Spotlight shines a light on the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.

The below post is a City Spotlight on a project in the suburban Chicago town of Orland Park, IL and comes courtesy of CNU Program Intern Ryan Forst.

Except for a minuscule antique district affectionately called Old Orland by locals, Orland Park has been a land of subdivisions and strip shopping centers since the 1980s. But, the suburb of 60,000 residents twenty-five miles southwest from Chicago’s loop is aiming to change its current development pattern. That said, the village has undertaken the master developer role to transform a triangle parcel of land into the future Downtown Orland Park. This blog will explain the development, and it will reflect on my recent site visit.

Situated next to the recently rebuilt 143rd Street Metra station and Old Orland, when completed Downtown Orland Park will be a high-end twenty-seven acre mixed-use transit oriented development. Fifteen of these twenty-seven acres are available for development, and the rest are reserved for related infrastructure and green space. Since 2007, the town has been assembling property thorough eminent domain to establish a district free of cul-de-sacs and where one can be car free. Financing this dream through TIF funds, Orland Park has invested $35 million in Downtown Orland as of 2009. In total, the plan will allow for 155,000 square feet of commercial space and 240 residential units. There is no limit on office space, and it is readily welcomed especially on each building’s upper floors. This project intrigued me, so I made a trip to Orland Park to see it first hand.

A quick stroll through the soon to be Downtown Orland Park reveals progress with inadequacies. Immediately upon my arrival my eyes were drawn to the superb streetscape and beautiful Railroad Romanesque style train station. This station and manicured grounds is the development’s main focal point, and it effectively links Old Orland with the new Downtown Orland. As a side note, movie buffs will recognize the station for the prominent role it played in the 2011 thriller Source Code. With this aforementioned infrastructure already in place, the currently unpopulated Downtown Orland screams out to be inhabited! To that end, work is progressing nicely on Ninety 7 Fifty, the project’ s first apartment and retail building. Frightfully, as a gator would stalk its prey, a new parking structure lurks from behind Ninety 7 Fifty’s unfinished façade begging to be filled with cars! Its presence reminds me that while this project itself might be walkable; Orland as a whole is not. The post office, library, and municipal complex are unreachable by foot as they are further south down the pedestrian unfriendly U.S. Highway 45. A walk to the train station uncovers an equally troubling problem: a limited train schedule outside of the traditional nine to five commuter times. Though the schedule is much improved over what was in place just a few years ago, it is still a far cry from a memory schedule that us New Urbanist love!

Even though I concluded my above reflection with some bleak comments, I left the new Downtown Orland in amazement in just how far Orland Park has come over the last five years and the hard work Orland’s leaders undertook to get the town to this point. Prior to Downtown Orland’s ground breaking, Orland Park was the car centric southwest Chicago region’s epicenter. This project, while small and not without its faults, is a step in the right direction to erasing this dubious distinction. Orland Park has truly begun to put the URBAN back into SubURBAN!

For more information on Downtown Orland Park check out these informative links…

Downtown Orland Park Comprehensive Site Plan

Old Orland and Downtown Orland Marketing Website

Ninety7Fifty Apartment Building


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