Given our druthers, the wrecking ball could be summoned to the Colt building post-haste. However, we do not have the deciding vote on the Oak Park village board, and we respect that, at this juncture, a narrow majority of that board wants to save the large, art deco building that fronts both Lake Street and Westgate.
All involved agree, we believe, that a final decision on whether this building can be restored to its early 1930s open-arcade design will be based on information not currently at hand. There are, so far, preliminary and widely varying cost and revenue assessments. There is no sense of the interest of genuine developers to take on this project to the village board majority's specifications. Until that information has been ascertained, no ultimate decision on the Colt can be made, and, we think, that limits the other decisions on downtown that can be prudently made.
This is why we urgently suggest the Oak Park village board takes these steps:
Buy the building: Exercise the put-call agreement entered into five years back by a previous village board and the Taxman Corp. Do it now. We would argue that the put-call agreed to by that past board is indicative of the dithering about in downtown that several former village boards have succumbed to. But a deal is a deal and while it will cost the village $5 million, owning the building is the essential next step to assessing redevelopment options.
Set the restoration parameters: The board must quickly agree on what they are asking the development community to bid on. The consensus, as we've heard it, is to restore the Colt to its original 1930s design. That means taking out the now-enclosed center section of the ground floor and recreating an arcade for shops and restaurants facing an open-air pedestrian way. There is some talk in town about restoring the building to its 1950s, closed arcade design. That needs to be dismissed promptly. What specs should the village set for the restoration of the facade? We're told the original limestone facade facing both Lake and the interior court is most certainly gone. What should the replacement look like? What is the highest and best use for the second floor? Right now it is Class C office space. Should it be upgraded and used as offices or converted to residential use? Key decisions all.
A Request for Proposal: By early in 2006, the village should be ready to issue a Request for Proposals to potential developers. It should include a turnaround time of no more than 60 days. With the RFP's quite specific restoration specs in place, it will be time for developers to assess the potential of this project to fly.
Once the developers come back, we will know specifically how much this project is going to cost. We will understand the marketplace's sense of the demand for the newly created retail space and the price point for that rental. We will know the types of businesses they will target for leasing and what the parking demands will be. A sense of a construction timeline will be outlined. And most critically, we will understand what level of financial subsidy from the TIF fund developers will be eyeing.
Decision time: Only then can the ultimate decision on the Colt be made. What we honestly ask of trustees Robert Milstein, Geoff Baker, Elizabeth Brady and Martha Brock is an open mind. When the proposals arrive, when some genuine clarity on costs is reached, decide fairly on the upsides and the risks, the direct costs and lost opportunity for more intensive development of the Colt site.
Asking the board majority to be willing to make a final decision only when all the information is available is asking for a distinguished level of public service.
That's not too much to hope for.
? In a business story, we misquoted Maura Flynn, who is directing a documentary about smoking bans ("Poor Phil's Murphy to be in smoking ban documentary," Business, p. 25).
Flynn asked Murphy, "Who are the groups who want this ban?" and not "Who are the creeps who want this ban?" as the reporter misheard.
? An unrelated smoking ban article ("Smoke Free OP says they have the votes this time," News, p. 7, Nov. 16) reported Oak Park President David Pope asked those for and against a smoking ban to "discuss a compromise."
Pope has suggested both sides get together to discuss the issue but has not used the word "compromise."
Wednesday Journal regrets the errors.