Oak Park hotel proposal may be postponed again

Second delay would put downtown tower a year behind original schedule

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Oak Park might have to wait longer still for its tallest building — a 20-story hotel tower planned for the corner of Lake and Forest.

Village hall has been working for years now, trying to partner with a Chicago developer to reinvent that high-traffic intersection. Those talks came to a head last March when the village board approved the $85 million hotel, condo and public garage complex.

But the project has been mired in delays because of the weak economy. Village Manager Tom Barwin said the development is being pushed back again. The developer, Sertus Capital Partners, says they need another nine months, delaying the completion of the building by about a year from its original schedule.

"I think it's fair to say the delay is caused by the recession and the financial meltdown that we've all gone through," Barwin said.

The village gave Sertus an extension back in November, pushing deadlines back by about three months. But Barwin said that was just a quick fix while he was out of town last fall, and this next extension will give the developer the extra year they need.

If the board approves the delay, likely on March 7, Sertus would have until this December to submit building plans to village hall, Barwin said.

In a brief interview last week, Michael Glazier, principal for Sertus, said he hopes their wait-and-see approach will pay off.

"It's just a question of allowing some time to pass so things get better and we have an ability to try to do something here in the marketplace," he said.

He was uncertain when, exactly, they would submit their plans to the village. He declined to discuss how efforts to nail down financing for the project are going.

"There's nothing I can report that wouldn't be premature or misinformation at this point in time," he said. "First things first — we've got to get this thing extended, and if the village doesn't come through with the extension, then it's over."

Baum Realty Group recently sent out information, marketing the first- and second-floor retail space in the tower. A real estate agent with the company deferred comment to the developer.

Baum's materials labeled the building as apartments, rather than condos and a hotel, as proposed. But Glazier called that an "oversight" by the company.

Oak Parker David Barsotti — a 13-year resident and vocal critic of the project — thinks village hall should listen to the market and let the project die. He believes if an extension is granted, Sertus will be back in a year asking for another.

"It is frustrating that the board is dead set on building this, regardless of the blatantly flawed economics used to support this project," he said.

contact: mstempniak@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 10:31 AM

Just watched the board meeting online, and was amazed that the village board believes the village is not incurring any costs during the project time delay. How about the decreased property tax revenue from the buildings demolished for this project? How about the lost sales tax and jobs from the businesses that vacated this site, such as Original Pancake House and Certifiedland Grocers? The baseline comparison for Sertus is what pre-existed on the site prior to the Sertus and village agreement.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 10:56 AM

Hotel Delay Approved. Nine month extension approved at March 7 board meeting. It's odd that this news came from the Trib Local reporter Jim Jaworski rather than traditional OP press. The developer stated that that they needed time to find the money. If that does not happen the developer speculated that if they cannot get the money during the extension, they "...might have to do it differently to make it happen." An example of the danger of hasty proposal approvals?

Tad Wefel from Oak Park  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 11:49 PM

The bottom line here is this: whatever this project ends up looking like, will Sertus be willing to sign a repayment guarantee to secure the construction loan required to build this project? This is the new (old) normal. Will the principals of this development firm put at risk most of their career earnings to secure construction financing? Or will the Village be forced to backstop the developers to ensure that development financing is secured? This is the whole issue behind the delay.


Posted: March 5th, 2011 3:34 AM

That's right Gary

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2011 3:31 AM

I'm sure Whiteco is paying more property tax than what was there. No one was proposing to keep the parking lot. The only fair comparison is with what might have been built through a fair open, development process calling for something closer to what zoning allows and NOT requiring an immense taxpayer subsidy.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2011 3:26 AM

Cook County has cut the assessment rate for multi-unit rentals of a given market value about in half, so Whiteco, even fully rented, won't produce nearly the property taxes promised. As for design, the Whiteco building violates many of the design guidelines proposed by Crandall & Arambula. Also, has anyone decided why it's the new (Whiteco)part of the Holley Court garage that requires temporary columns and duct tape?

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2011 3:20 AM

I guess I haven't been given the divine revelation that Trader Joe's could only have arrived with a really cheesy 14-story concrete lump above it. George Crandall, one of the authors of the magical "Greater DTOP Plan," told me that the Whiteco building really wasn't part of the central business district. I frankly don't care if Whiteco is occupied or not. I'd like to see how much tax revenue it's producing as compared with that projected and how long it will take to get public investments back.


Posted: March 4th, 2011 6:50 PM

J, I think you might be one of the only people in OP who isn't buying from TJ's.


Posted: March 4th, 2011 6:27 PM

Trader Joe's is NOT a success? You've fooled me there. Have you seen the OP Apartments tax bill? I think there is quite a bit more tax dollars going to the taxing bodies of this great Village than before when it was a parking lot!! Success is success irregardless of how you try to spin it! OK Maybe the building doesn't look as pretty as it could have. That doesn't account for the high occupancy and the nice interior.


Posted: March 4th, 2011 3:21 PM

I went to trader Jope's recently and did not buy a single thing. Trader Joe's is not a great store, and OP location is hardly the best of the trader Joe's franchise. And just checked whitoce's web page, you know the place were they were illegally renting out rooms as a hotel... plenty of rooms available at the inn. Lots of OP money spent to build that complex, not much of a success in my eyes


Posted: March 4th, 2011 3:05 PM

Note to VMA. OP is not exactly helping your case.


Posted: March 4th, 2011 2:58 PM

Gary, You said ALL the same things about Whiteco. The rents are not low and the place is near capacity in terms of rentals. You were and are wrong on most fronts. Traders Joes is a HUGE success. Note to Gary: People LIKE to live here.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 1:04 PM

If the Sertus condos get built, they'd be the most expensive in town and likely find few buyers. If rental apartments get built, they too would be too expensive. Changes in the way rental units get assessed have made luxury rentals far less attractive in terms of property taxes for the Village. It's really time to stop pretending this project will happen as advertised. Look for the Village to pre-emptively remove the existing (paid for) parking garage.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 12:59 PM

We know that the redevelopment agreement allows Sertus to build more condos in the same envelope if the hotel just isn't possible. Now that neither hotel nor condos appear likely, what have the Village and Sertus quietly agreed might replace them? Perhaps the retail space being advertised as under rental apartments wasn't really a mistake. Also, what's being proposed isn't a modern commercial hotel; it has almost no amenities and inadequate parking.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 12:50 PM

A couple of points on the Sertus project: As proposed and approved, it decreases the amount of available public parking, even while providing less parking than required by code for the hotel and condos. Also, we should be very careful about backroom arrangements we can't see. I find it hard to believe that Sertus would have made the original, highly overpriced, purchase without some prior discussions and promises from the Village.

connecting the dots  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:48 AM

Village Code states that elected officials shall not grant or make available to any citizen any consideration, treatment, advantage or favor beyond that which is available to every other citizen. Merriam Webster defines cronyism as the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends. But let's not argue ... why don't we let the Illinois Attorney General decide this issue for us.


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 7:46 PM

You are right. I am missing the point. In one argument people always complain about "outside" consulting firms making too much money and why dont we use local firms or people? I suppose VOP shouldnt of had ANY business relationships with Park National? Are you kidding me. They helped OP!! I think your comments are with out merit and I encourage this board and anyboard to utilize any and all of the wonderful local groups, firms, talent, professionals that OP has. Even if they are friends :-)

connecting the dots  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 3:43 PM

@OP ... you completely missed the point. Nothing wrong with public officials having friends, but they cannot direct, steer, or influence the provision of public funds, resources, or civic positions towards their them. Not my opinion, but rather that of the Village Code pertaining to ethics.


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 3:10 PM

Gee another crazy concept. Our president- David Pope is friends with a number of fine, successful, giving, professionals in our Village?? What's the alternative? The Village President be enemy's to those that make our community GREAT. People really need to get a clue!!


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 2:58 PM

Long live the People's Republic of Oak Park. The Board has spoken. Our decision is wise and final. How dare you question us? Resistance is futile. Carry on, carry on...

connecting the dots  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 9:40 AM

@Jimmy ... yes, the list of "Friends of David Pope" that are recipients of financial benefits from the village is long and growing. Gary Cuneen / Seven Generations Ahead, John Harris / A5, Mary Jo Shuler / Marion St. Cheese Market and Greenline Wheels, Erica Cuneen / Beyond Properties. Others, such as Bob Tucker and Tom Philion, are provided plumb chair positions on citizen commissions.

Jimmy from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:59 AM

Has anyone ever counted the number of fireinds of Pope that now own property on Marion Street? Also, how many of these new building owners have received money for their own not for profit organization or their spouses? Maybe Pope is creating a decreased value in surrounding properties to drive old owners out and his friends in?


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 1:09 AM

Comparing the existing hotels and the NEW hotel are like comparing apples to oranges. The demand isn't there because the demand is for a NEWER hotel(s). A new hotel DOESN'T have to be part of a $85 Million project. I think a NEW hotel could stand on its on- somewhere.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 12:35 AM

I thought the hotel idea was a pretty good one, but not necessarily the size or design. Our current hotels are quaint but that's about it. They are swell for the Wright tourist, etc. but do not have the amenities business people seek. The new Marion is a plus, but not to the level Sertus envisioned. I suspect it is safe not to agree to the Sertus' time extension. If the project is as great as the board thinks, other developers, even Sertus, will surface. Maybe with a better idea!

Hank Floyd Wright  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:25 PM

The Village voted to go ahead with this project despite informed opposition to the idea, a moribund area market for hotel space and a lukewarm recommendation from the independent feasibility study it itself commissioned. As we contemplate yet another grandiose, costly and impractical scheme result in a large vacant lot, it's obviously time for a change in Village board leadership.

epic lulz  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:10 PM

Well, gosh, if the hotel project doesn't work out, perhaps the Trustees will then be able to put some of their other pet projects into the space, like a comedy club and bowling alley....


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:08 PM

The VOP cannot use the bad economy as an excuse for yet another delay -- the damn project was approved during the middle of the recession.

Brian J. Slowiak from oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 7:02 PM

If the Grove and Madison project fails, wouldnt it be great to house the people who would have lived at Grove and Madison at the new hotel? Empty rooms, long term cash paying residents, easy access to public transportation and shopping and diversity, all in one new 24 hour managed and videotaped building. Paradise in Oak Park.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 6:07 PM

David Pope's master plan appears to be working. First, tear down as many buildings (3) and drive away as many existing small businesses (18) as possible in downtown Oak Park. Second, replace with open eyesores of dead asphalt space. The intended outcome? Huge loss in property and sales taxes while waiting forever for unrealized projects that will never happen. Block 37 re-visited.

Theresa from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 4:56 PM

I agree with almost all these comments and our village board's ongoing need to cozy up to developers who then, as expected, drop the ball, leaving vacant properties dotting the village. Please remember there is a Village board election coming up and you can send a message!

Violet Aura  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 4:09 PM

@OP: And why, pray tell, does OP need another hotel? The Wright Inn and Carleton are not enough? And why more parking lots? OP is a pedestrian-friendly town. We should be encouraging more biking and walking, not building more and more space for metal pollution boxes! What really gets me is how they were in such a hurry to tear down Certified and we could have enjoyed having a grocery on Lake Street for a bit longer...

OP taxpayer  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 2:21 PM

As an Oak Park resident and taxpayer, is there anything I can do to try and prevent this from passing? The article says it's likely to pass on the 7th. Is that at a public meeting (place, time?) at which residents can speak, or is it another behind closed doors deal? Or is "likely" a way of saying I shouldn't waste my time?


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 1:12 PM

Yes... OP does need a new hotel. The total sum of the project isnt ALL Hotel. It also includes residential and commercial and PARKING. Yes PARKING!!!! Yea

Another OP  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 12:17 PM

You forget John that the Village Board never listens to anyone that offers an alternative view point. If an alternative view point is presented, they marginalize the idea and many times the person. Oak Parks does not NEED a NEW hotel. If Oak Park did, then the market would allow Sertus to get financing. Maybe the people that want the hotel should fork over the money instead of asking the taxpayers.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 11:25 AM

As long as Oak Park allows developers, profit and non-profit, design, research, and lobby projects in the village, we will see project failures. Developers spend a lot of face time with the village staff and board telling them why projects are perfect for the village. They rarely tell us of risks. We need more independent viewpoints and less developer coziness.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 11:05 AM

David Pope called the deal a "Win-Win" for Oak Park. Is this still the case?

S. Beckett  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:54 AM

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:26 AM

Oak Park NEEDS a NEW hotel. I hope this project works out.

Jon Donohue  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:47 AM

When will David Pope, Tom Barwin, and the entire Village Board stop lying? They knew the economy was bad when they approved this project, yet they lied and said that this is something that the banks will finance. Well, their dishonest is finally catching up with them. One can only hope that Oak Park citizens will finally realize the lies coming from Village Hall and demand more fiscal accountability. Otherwise, our taxes will continue to rise, which will further depress our property values.

FedUp from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:31 AM

Wow, it's a good thing the Village drove The Original Pancake House, Certified LandFoods, Baskin Robbins and other business out of Oak Park years ago so that corner could sit vacant. Has it been 5 years? I think so. The current proposal is just WAY too big...it will be several years before anyone will seriously consider funding it. Oak Park can't even sustain a hotel that size. When will the Village start being business friendly and let organic growth from current bizs build our tax base?

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