An effort is under way once again to redefine the uniqueness of the Lake Forest train station by marketing the inside to prospective businesses.
The station was built in in 1899, roughly 50 years after the first trains appeared in metro Chicago.
A public tour of the commercial spaces will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 16, and the city is giving businesses until 3 p.m. Jan. 27 to submit proposals.
A product of the Progressive Era, the East Side station designed by Chicago architect Charles Frost has become “the face, if you will, of downtown Market Square,” said Carina Walters, assistant to the Lake Forest city manager.
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Efforts to fill all four commercial spaces at the station is moving ahead after a grant was used to renovate the station’s exterior. "We're not trying to find any specific businesses” to fill the spaces, Walters said. “It's an open slate right now."
The , which intends to stay put, inhabits one space, a freestanding building on Western Avenue.
The other three — a 2,000-square-foot space once occupied by Northern Trust Bank, a 521-square-foot space once occupied by a dry cleaner, and 60-square-foot space once held by a coffee vendor — are vacant.
According to the city, 800 to 900 people daily board Metra's Union Pacific North train line from the station, and traffic has reached upward of 14,000 cars at Western Avenue and Deerpath Road.
Bringing new businesses into the station, which last was renovated for nearly $900,000 in the 1980s, is part of a bigger effort to complete Market Square.
The city even gave one business owner, Vanna Paoli of , a shot to sell her vintage collectables. Paoli's store stood in the bank's former storefront as test run from May to the end of September.
“They gave me this opportunity,” Paoli said of the city, “and I liked it very much.”
And it wasn't so much for money but pride.
“It was to prove to myself and, maybe, to the community, that something like this could work," she said.
As for future businesses entering the train station, Paoli said neither it nor the city needs another bank.
“I think Lake Forest needs another space where people can meet each other, something different,” she said.
With that nuance in mind, she and her husband are working on a new business proposal, which may include serving coffee and tea, for the train station.
Funding to Date
“We knew that the building had started to deteriorate,” Walters said. “The paint was dripping, some of the roof was falling off. It's part of Lake Forest, and it really needed to be renovated ...”
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The city plans to paint the station and will continue fixing up the roof, Walters said. If there are funds left over, “we'll do tuck-pointing and masonry on the exterior.”
“We want to make sure the building lasts for another 100 years,” she stressed.