Clock is ticking on Lake-Lathrop development

Keystone Ventures has new partner, is working on 'significant modifications'

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By Deborah Kadin

River Forest handed the developer of Lake and Lathrop what could be his final chance to advance an important proposed commercial project in River Forest. 

In a unanimous vote after very few questions, trustees on Jan. 9 gave Keystone Ventures and Tim Hague until Jan. 30 to purchase the two key parcels for the project, buy out the associated leases and perform other due diligence. 

The firm also will have until March 10 to file a new redevelopment application, "as best and complete as possible," according to Village President Catherine Adduci.

"As you can imagine, the village wants this project to succeed for all the right reasons. We want to see something special there," Adduci said. "We're at a point where we need to move on this. This has been in the making for a long time and we have our limits. I'm confident we will make this happen, I'm confident these are the rights dates. 

"I hope, frankly, we won't be disappointed." 

In a telephone interview before the meeting, Trustee Tom Cargie said it was unfortunate that it has taken so long to get this done. 

"This is the single most important development in River Forest, and we need to get it online as fast as possible. Hopefully we won't have to extend it again," said Cargie, who is running for re-election this spring. 

The development has been in the works since 2010. In March 2016, the village and Hague struck a timeline for him to do all the work, including buying all the parcels, by June. Deadlines have come and gone since June, and the village has sent default notices to Hague in the intervening months.

In seeking what is the third extension of that initial timeline, Hague told the board there have been "a lot of challenges associated with this redevelopment, a lot of complexity to this," including acquisition of property from the estate of Ed Ditchfield and from Ali ElSaffar, Oak Park Township assessor. 

Hague said he'd made significant progress, but did not elaborate.

"I'm encouraged by this," Hague said. "Ultimately, we will have a nice project as we work through some of the challenges and difficulties."

One challenge is the environmental contamination on two of the properties. Another is that the firm, Inland Real Estate Group, which had been involved in the residential component of the project, struggled with some of the challenges and complexities, according to Hague, who did not elaborate. 

The two parted company and Hague found another partner, Sedgwick Properties, owned by Marty Paris, a River Forest resident and son of former Village President Frank Paris. Hague said they would be working with staff on significant modifications to the redevelopment application. 

Adduci told Hague the village expects the project and the renderings would look similar to the past presentations he gave to the trustees. Hague assured the board that they would.

"We are confident that deadline will be met," said Hague, who told Wednesday Journal in a brief interview that Sedgwick has good experience working with urban residential sites. 

As of now, Hague said they had not approached financial institutions for funding. He said they were working property acquisition. 

Three properties are needed to make the project work. The least important is 423 Ashland Ave., a parcel owned by Forest Park National Bank. That land, which was purchased in September 2016 by Hague, is an adjunct to the project. 

The property at 7602-13 Lake St. is owned by the Ditchfield estate; 7617-21 Lake St. is owned by ElSaffar. 

Both properties, the parkway and the street have to be clear of carcinogenic dry-cleaning chemicals by Aug. 1. 

When trustees in 2010 selected Hague as the developer of the site, they committed $1.9 million from the Lake Street Tax Increment Financing District toward the environmental remediation. 

Over the years, a big issue during discussions with Ditchfield was cleanup of the site. As far back as 2001, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found that the property, which had housed a dry cleaner since 1922, was contaminated. Ditchfield operated River Forest Cleaners on the site.

After the meeting, Trustee Tom Dwyer, who also is running for re-election, said he had no concerns about Hague meeting this deadline, despite the fact that he missed them in the past. 

"I think he can do it," said Dwyer, who would not comment further.   

Neither Sedgwick nor Inland could be reached for comment.

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