By Bob Uphues
Just going by the name and its location on Lake Street in downtown Oak Park, Visit Oak Park would appear to be an Oak Park-centric tourism and visitors center, perhaps heavy on handy info about the village's connections to famous former locals Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway.
And while Visit Oak Park has plenty of that, it's actually a regional tourism agency, supported in large part by state funding, the agency promotes tourism in some 20 suburban communities, including Riverside and Brookfield.
What's more, a Riverside woman has just been named chairwoman of Visit Oak Park's board of directors.
Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, who served as vice chair last year and has been on the board of directors for four years, will serve as the head of the board's executive committee through 2018. Nicholas Greifer, the village of Brookfield's director of community and economic development is also a member of the board of directors.
In 2018, said Marsh-Ozga, who sits on the Riverside Preservation Commission, Visit Oak Park will focus on a "partnership model" among member communities.
"We'll be more oriented toward feet on the ground and connecting businesses in different communities with one another to get synergies going," Marsh-Ozga said.
Oak Park is a critical piece of the tourism puzzle in the western suburbs – Brookfield Zoo is another – and villages like Riverside benefit from people seeking tourism opportunities through Visit Oak Park, Marsh-Ozga said.
"The name itself helps surrounding communities get national and international interest they might not have had," Marsh-Ozga said. "By association, Riverside and other communities gain more exposure."
But it also won't hurt Riverside that one of its residents is sitting at the head of the board table of Visit Oak Park.
"The ability to sit at the table and work within the organization to determine direction and marketing initiatives allows particular communities to receive a little greater exposure than otherwise," Marsh-Ozga said.
One tangible way communities outside of Oak Park are benefitting from the association with Visit Oak Park is the agency's Urban Made Local program, which invites artists from member communities to submit their work, which is then reviewed and potentially featured for sale at the visitors center at 1010 Lake St. in Oak Park.
The ceramic artwork of Riverside Arts Center instructor and school manager Shawn Vincent is presently being featured at the Oak Park Visitors Center.