Even though Dominick's holds the cards on what happens next to the site of its soon-to-close North Avenue store, interest in finding an appropriate way of redeveloping the site is high, said village officials and a principal with the firm that owns the property.
"We're on top of it; we're motivated to get this thing done in the right way," Village President Catherine Adduci said. "We're bullish on this, and we're all going in the right direction. We're thinking about what it ought to be and what it ought to look like."
Conversations already have taken place with some developers, and Adduci said she and Mike George, a principal with Mid-America Real Estate Group, who has oversight of the property, have been discussing this as well.
Adduci said redevelopment will happen because there is no shortage of interest. There is high volume of traffic along North Avenue and it is highly visible. It's also across the street from Elmwood Park, which has lots of restaurants and businesses.
She believes the closing of the site and potential competition has created a "bit of hype in the property. It creates interest in Dominick's getting out of there and allowing someone else to take it over."
And it's likely that Dominick's knows this. "The high demand has all of us motivated to do the right thing for that piece of property," she said. "Something will go there that's appropriate for River Forest."
But as long as Dominick's continues to hold the lease and until it decides how it will dispose of its interests, there is nothing his company can do to get another tenant for the property, George said.
Conceivably, it could be 3 1/2 years — when the lease ends — before the site can be developed for another use, he added, although he believes the chain will be out of the lease well before that. Someone may be willing to give them the money to take over the lease. Someone could also sublease the site, but it's unlikely someone will want to take that on without negotiating a long-term lease, he added.
"As the lease is in force, Dominick's will continue to pay rent. It's in control at this point as to what happens in the building after it closes," George said. "There's nothing we can do. We have to allow Dominick's to go through the process."
Safeway Inc., Dominick's parent company, announced this fall that it would leave the Chicago market, closing locations that had not been sold to other grocery chains or for other uses. The River Forest store is among the chain's oldest and smallest locations. Rumors of closing had been circulating for years although Mid-America and Dominick's signed a five-year lease extension in 2012.
When Mid-America bought the site a number of years ago. George said the company knew how long the lease was and looked down the road toward improving the property and turning it into something better for River Forest. Adduci is looking toward a development that can generate as much sales tax — some $100,000 annually — as Dominick's.
In the 2010 corridor study, which outlines River Forest's long-range plan for revitalization of its business corridors, the 2-acre Dominick's site was mentioned as a potential redevelopment location. Plans there could be undertaken as part of a revitalization of the entire North Avenue corridor.
In response to questions related to the North Avenue corridor, participants identified the need for new development and overall appearance as the most important issues. Other concerns included traffic congestion and parking.
Efforts to reach a Dominick's representative were unsuccessful.