By Nona Tepper
On Nov. 27, developers approached the River Forest Board of Trustees with detailed plans for a new senior home at the intersection of Chicago and Harlem avenues, the location of a TCF Bank.
Only problem? Developers Senior Lifestyle and Kaufman Jacobs didn't yet own the property they want to develop. TCF Bank still owns 800 N. Harlem Ave. Another issue? Developers caught TCF flat-footed. The bank hadn't told any of its employees it planned to vacate the property before developers unveiled plans to the public.
Wednesday Journal attended the village board meeting where developers revealed three sets of plans for a proposed independent and assisted living home in River Forest on that plot of land. At the meeting, Kaufman Jacobs also said its officials had met with two nearby homeowners about buying their homes, so the senior development could be as large as possible. Kaufman Jacobs even said it was keeping a realtor on retainer to help families move.
But papers still hadn't been signed between developers and TCF.
Wednesday Journal reported developers' high-flying plans in their Nov. 28 issue. Bank employees and customers saw the newspaper article and assumed the branch was being permanently shuttered. Some employees worried they might lose their jobs. TCF did not comment on how they dealt with the communications snafu, offering only, "We learned about the news story in several channels at approximately the same time," according to Amie Hoffner, vice president and director of corporate communications at TCF Bank.
"We certainly would have appreciated the opportunity to have a conversation with our team members and our customers as it relates to this property first because there is not a signed contract in place," Hoffner said. "We have no legally binding contract or plans for this property that exist today."
She added: "Typically we would see a developer have a signed contract with us before they would make a public disclosure about plans."
Lee Winter, director of development at Kaufman Jacobs, said officials did tell TCF they were going to present to River Forest's trustees. Company officials blamed the entire situation on miscommunication. They also said they had never mentioned Senior Lifestyle as a partner developer to TCF because their participation was "irrelevant."
"We don't have a contract right now, but we hope to have something completed with them, so we cannot comment on who's responsible for this miscommunication," said Jay Patel, vice president of acquisitions at Kaufman Jacobs.
Village President Cathy Adduci said it's not out of the ordinary for developers to approach the village before purchasing the property. She said developers often come before the board before buying a property to make sure there would be no issues regarding zoning or other complications. She also said it was normal for developers to present detailed plans at a public meeting.
In this case, Adduci said, "It seems unusual that the [bank] headquarters hadn't communicated to the employees, when everyone knows that property is up for sale."
Indeed, TCF signed a contract in September to lease the old Byline Bank at 601 N. Harlem Ave. in Oak Park from Clark Street Real Estate Development.
Hoffner said all bank employees who work at 800 N. Harlem will transition to the new branch. The bank is making the move as part of its "cost-effective" rebranding strategy, she said, which includes redesigning branch layouts and adding ATMs. Next month, she said TCF will apply for city demolition and construction permits for the new branch at 601 N. Harlem Ave. in Oak Park.
As for Kaufman Jacobs and Senior Lifestyle, Hoffner did not confirm or deny that TCF is entertaining offers from other developers.
"We inform our team members and customers of branch relocations as soon as we are confident all requirements to complete the move are met, including signed purchase agreements and/or signed licensing agreements, approved permits from the city and more," she said in a statement, adding, "We don't have a contract in place that even says we're selling to this developer or to any other."
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