By Dan Haley
There's a reason psychologists study group dynamics. It's fascinating, fun, disturbing, and Monday night at Oak Park's village hall, lucrative. Hopefully for both taxpayers and developers.
The village board spent two extraordinary hours grilling, fawning, arm-twisting and kowtowing to a changed cast of characters in the Lake and Forest development drama. Gone, for practical purposes, is Sertus Capital/Lake Street Partners, the development group that overpaid for the small parcel at the corner in 2006 and has been running uphill ever since. Sliding into its place through the connective tissue of Michael Glazier is the heavyweight development duo of Golub and Company and Wood Partners. Glazier was the principal at Sertus and he leaped from that sinking ship back into the loving arms of Chicago-based Golub where he was named a senior vp. And he brought his floundering, near foreclosed, bloom-off-the-rose, 20-story, shiny apartment tower plan with him.
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb seemed intent on turning the screws on the suits in front of him as he had the village staff review, in considerable detail, the many delays, reboots and disappearances of Sertus over many lost years of non-development.
But when Michael Newman, president and CEO of Golub, strode to the podium Monday, it was clear that village trustees were smitten. "Ahh, Golub, so many tall buildings, so much reach into the capital markets, and Michael — can we call you Michael? — what an awesome tie."
Forgotten for a brief moment was just how fried trustees and Abu-Taleb had become with Michael Glazier, Sertus, endless extensions, an utter lack of communication. That two very notable development firms were teaming up to potentially complete a hard-won development proposal and solve the village's parking garage problem was entrancing. "Golub," said Abu-Taleb, "gives me a certain level of comfort. But I still have a high level of concerns."
The feel-good moment toughened as trustees pointed out that the proposed extension agreement did not have either Golub's or Wood's name on it, that the village had asked for $500,000 from the developer to salve its hurt feelings, that the developer had anted up only $200K, and that ownership of the site was in doubt as PNC Bank moved toward foreclosure.
It was the developers' turn to sweat their suits a bit as the village board's resolve stiffened and a series of interim deadlines for performance within an 8-month extension were debated. Key was the suggestion that an early date be set by which Golub and Wood had to confirm their equity investment in the $70 million project or all bets were off. Dec. 15 was talked about. Jan. 15 was probably acceptable.
Abu-Taleb called a brief recess, the developers retreated to a far corner of the council chambers for an intense talk, small sidebars took place among trustees. And then after 10 minutes, the lawyer for the developers came to the podium with two offers.
This was the moment. Concessions were about to be wrung. Pressure was going to be brought to bear. Says the lawyer: If you really insist on a Jan. 15 deadline, we'll do our very best. Or we could just keep you in the loop better. The board forgot to scoff. They got grateful to be "kept in the loop." It took Trustee Peter Barber to remember the developers had a second offer. "Oh, yeah, we'll toss another $50,000 onto the table."
Now, I'm in favor of granting Golub/Wood an extension. These two developers are a massive upgrade and, together with the improving economy, the likelihood of this project getting built just shot up.
But if the goal was to change the dynamic, to assert itself on behalf of frustrated taxpayers, to force clearly interested developers to front-burner this project every damned day, then some portion of opportunity was left on the table Monday night.