I attended the second forum conducted by Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, joined this time by Trustee Salzman. The main subject of discussion was economic development in Oak Park, and the evening's conversation was nearly monopolized by the Lake-Forest project. But economic development isn't limited to this single project. Oak Park should take a hard look at what could be affecting the redevelopment of privately-owned properties.
At the forum, I asked the president and the trustee if historic preservation may be blocking redevelopment of some private properties, specifically the vacant Foley-Rice Cadillac Dealership at 640-656 Madison St. Currently lacking landmark protection, village staff and the Historic Preservation Commission may be working hard to secure that status. Is the effort to have the building declared a historic landmark having an impact on the sale and redevelopment of these parcels?
Last year a proposal to transplant the Austin/Lake Aldi's store to the former Foley-Rice property failed for unspecified reasons although the prospective purchasers had agreed to preserve the façade of the building. The deal with Aldi's would have resulted in more revenue, due to occupancy, improved property values, and sales taxes. In 2007, there was another proposal for the site made by Fenwick High School. The preservation of the façade was also part of that project; another concern was that the property would become tax-exempt.
Trustee Salzman responded to my question saying that Oak Park is committed to a balance between historic preservation and development without defining what would create that economic balance.
The Cook County Assessor's website reveals that, since 2005, the assessed valuation for the parcels has dropped over 40%. The Cook County Treasurer's records indicate that the annual property taxes paid in 2007 for 640-656 Madison was approximately $75,000; in 2013 the owners paid about $41,000. The longer it is vacant, the less revenue paid to Oak Park and other taxing districts.
Village staff and the Historic Preservation Commission should suspend their efforts to have the Foley Rice property declared a landmark. It isn't the Acropolis. If economic development is the priority for Oak Park, then representatives of the village, including the board and the Oak Park Development Corporation, should meet with the owners to determine what is needed to sell and redevelop this property to the advantage of all. That discussion should include the possibility of something entirely new at 640-656 Madison.