Colt project wins enthused thumbs up

Abu-Taleb urges sped-up Plan Commission hearings

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By Bob Skolnik

The developers of a mixed use residential, retail and parking project on the village owned Colt site on Lake Street received a warm welcome Monday night from the Oak Park village board. After listening to an outline of the project and asking a few questions the village board voted 6-0 to authorize village staff to prepare a redevelopment agreement with Clark Street Developers.

The developers presented the outlines of a project that would feature two new buildings where a surface parking lot now sits between Lake Street and North Boulevard just east of Harlem Avenue. The buildings would include almost 26,000 square feet of new retail space, 248 luxury apartments and a five level parking garage.

Prior to the vote, Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb stressed the importance of getting moving on the long stalled project as the first test of the newly revamped development process in Oak Park.

"I want you to help us change the perception about Oak Park being a difficult place to do business," Abu-Taleb told the developers. "We're in this together. We will do our part."

Abu-Taleb stressed that he wanted to move fast. The redevelopment agreement, which is already underway, is expected to be finalized by staff and will likely be approved by the board in May. Then the project will go before the Plan Commission. Abu-Taleb said that he hoped to complete the plan review before the Plan Commission in just three months. 

"I urge all of us to work with a sense of urgency to get this project off the ground," Abu-Taleb said. "We have a short window of opportunity to invest in our community."

The developers would like to begin construction next spring and the first retail tenants could move in the fall or winter of 2016.

The plans call for the construction of two mixed use buildings, a six story building fronting Lake Street and a larger 11 story building facing North Boulevard. The building facing Lake Street will be just under 80 feet high. The two buildings would be connected by a pedestrian bridge over Westgate.

The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation (OPEDC) played a lead role in working with the developers to finalize a plan that has been in the works for half-a-decade.

John Hedges, the interim director of the OPDC, said that the development will help achieve many of the goals of the Downtown Oak Park Master Plan. 

"We think it reinforces the future plans for the downtown," Hedges said. "There is sufficient return for the village's contribution. The developers have demonstrated capacity to complete the project."

The village will provide approximately $11.8 million in land and capital contributions for the project. It will provide the village owned land where the surface parking lot now stands at no cost to the developer. The village purchased the land where the Colt building once stood for $5 million approximately five years ago after attempts to develop the property never got off the ground. The village would retain the ownership of the land under the parking garage though the garage would be operated by the developer with the village setting the parking rates and sharing in the revenue.

The financial contribution by the village is essential Hedges told the board. "The project would not go forward without government involvement," Hedges said. "It needs local government assistance."

Hedges estimated that the village would net approximately $90 million in revenue on the project from property and sales taxes over 40 years and that it would take 10 or 11 years for the village to recoup its investment in the project.

The project would add nearly 26,000 of new retail space to downtown Oak Park. 

"We want to attract the best quality of local, regional and national retailers and restaurateurs," said Andrew Stein of Clark Street Development without naming any names. "They'll provide a great mix for downtown Oak Park."

The 248 apartments will include 65 studio apartments, 113 one bedroom apartments and 53 two bedroom apartments. The apartments will be high end featuring stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. The target market is expected to be young professionals with incomes of $60,000 to $100,000 who could take the nearby el or train to work in downtown Chicago. Rents are expected to be about 20 percent lower than comparable apartments in downtown Chicago said Don Smith of Jupiter Realty, the co-developer which is handing the residential aspect of the project. 

Smith said that the main residential building would feature a green roof with a rooftop pool, dog run and other amenities. Smith estimated that a studio apartment could rent for $1,450 to $1,500 a month. One-bedrooms would rent for $1,700 per month and two-bedrooms might price out at $2,200 to $2,400 per month.

Village Trustee Glenn Brewer raised the issue of affordable housing. The project does not include any units specifically designated as affordable.

"Tonight was not really the place to push the issue," Brewer said after the meeting. "I expect more of that to come through the plan commission process and when the Plan Commission takes it up they're going to look at it. I don't want it to be an issue that derails the project, but I want developers to think in terms that there are many, many, many aspects of a good development in a community. Being transit orientated is one of them. Taking advantage of the fact it's transit orientated also means being able to put it into a position where it's affordable for a good number of people."

Brewer said that he was not necessarily looking for affordable units in this project but would like the village to explore ways to get the developers to contribute to adding affordable housing in Oak Park.

The plan also calls for the construction of a new north/south street in the middle in the project tentatively called Station Street. It would connect Lake Street and North Boulevard. 

"The palate of this Station Street is not identical (to Marion Street)," Hedges said. "I mean there are some differences. It's not quite as expensive, but it has a lot of the same look as Marion so there will be a consistency through that area." 

Plans call for the five level parking lot to have no reserved or assigned spaces. But residents will be encouraged through signage and design to park on the upper levels of the garage. The development will likely need a variance because it is anticipating fewer residential parkers than apartments. 

Trustee Colette Lueck liked the lack of reserved parking spaces saying that shoppers can use spaces during the day when some residents with cars are likely at work with their cars and by the time the residents come home many of the shoppers will be gone.

"I am really excited by the concept of shared parking," Lueck said. "You get the maximum use out of each space. I'm really pleased that they aren't assigned spaces and a spot can be filled by different parkers at different points in time."

Stein vowed that they would build the nicest parking garage in downtown Oak Park.

"We want to make this garage the most inviting, light and welcoming garage in downtown Oak Park," Stein said.

Some are concerned about the bringing added retail space to a street that already has some retail vacancies and question whether downtown will be flooded with new apartments especially with a mixed use tower being planned for Lake and Forest and another at Harlem and South Boulevard. But Smith said that downtown Oak Park is an attractive place to live and can absorb the new residents. Developers say that the 300 or so new residents this project will house will bring with them about $5 million of annual purchasing power which will be a boon for local retailers.

"All of that won't be spent in Oak Park of course, but a good deal of it will be, in shopping and restaurants," Hedges said.

Abu-Taleb said he expects the developers to be sensitive to what people already like about Oak Park.

"We also want you to help us maintain the culture and the values and the environment that attracted you to our community in the first place," Abu-Taleb said.

"It has been a long journey to this evening," said Stein. "It has truly been a collaborative process to get to where we're at."   

Reader Comments

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OP Transplant  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 1:57 PM

Bridgett - I agree with you 100%. My point is just that parking convenience is key when consumers determine where to shop. Ease and convenience of parking is one of the reasons shopping malls are successful. OP doesn't have the space to provide that much free surface parking. But if our attitude is "people can just park in the garages and walk if they want to shop in Oak Park", then we have to understand why people don't like to shop in Oak Park. Free surface parking brings customers.

The Brad from OP  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 11:33 AM

It was just surprising. Not a knock on Trader Joe's. AWESOME store, and we're happy business is thriving. Driver's just need to be smarter and more patient, which is asking too much, I know. Perhaps it needs to be striped better for one-way traffic in a clockwise fashion. What happened was a nightmare though. Too many cars were coming in, we were stuck, the people backing out were stuck, and all control was lost.

The Brad from OP  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 11:31 AM

Experienced a very scary situation in the Trader Joe's lot last week around 6pm. Two cars caused a congestion nightmare as they backed out. Too many cars, too little space, people not being patient, backlog from Ontario on the north and exiting cars from the public garage on the south. It was insane. We've never been a situation like that before. We were trying to make a left turn, and the lack of traffic control brought us from inches of getting sideswiped and rear-ended by impatient folks

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 11:22 AM

@OP Transplant, if we want to be like Oak Brook, then we'll have to kick out about 47,000 residents from Oak Park, leaving only 5,000 residents. Oak Brook is almost twice the size (square miles) as Oak Park, with only 15% of the population. Oak Brook has about 1,000 people per square mile, Oak Park has 11x that--about 11,000 people per square mile. Oak Park's density is more like that of Chicago.

OP Transplant  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 10:55 AM

"The paranoia that many people have about parking is downright strange." Any debate over the importance of parking was settled decades ago, when malls with free, plentiful surface parking killed countless downtowns, including OP's. People drive to where parking is easy, which is why I often run into neighbors at Oak Brook. People who live in Oak Brook don't drive to OP to shop.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 10:04 PM

Regarding parking: There is going to be parking on this property. 422 spaces. At least twice as much as what is currently available in those two surface lots. And none of the spaces will be assigned (will be shared parking with residents who live there, whose cars are less likely to be there during shopping hours). And none of the spaces will be for commuters looking to park and then hop on the train or el.

OP Non-transplant  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:00 PM

OP Transplant, the whole time I was growing up in Oak Park from the 80s to early 2000s, this land contained buildings and zero parking. Nobody suggested that the absence of a parking lot at that site would doom Downtown Oak Park. In fact, there was a lot less parking downtown back then, and downtown was generally healthier. The paranoia that many people have about parking is downright strange. This lot is a gaping hole that ruins the sense of place downtown and it needs to be filled.

OP Transplant  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 3:04 PM

"Stop complaining about parking. Park in the garage and do a little walking it's good for your health." People make shopping and dining choices based at least partially on the convenience of parking, especially in bad weather. This is not an attitude that fills store and restaurants. Remember, there are always a lot of other places to go. We have to come up with ways to attract others to OP, not ways to get OP residents to shop elsewhere.


Posted: May 5th, 2014 2:48 PM

The patchwork development approach to this area, and to downtown OP in general doesn't produce positive results for Oak Park. This strikes me as further congestion and less friendly parking, neither of which will bring prople downtown. I find myself avoiding this area unless there is something I absolutely need. This plan won't change that. But it will cram more people into an already tight space.

Oak Park Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 2:27 PM

Reply to Phil from Oak Park and Dont see it, Stop complaining about parking. Park in the garage and do a little walking it's good for your health.

ROI from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 12:03 PM

In many previous projects, citizens rightly asked about ROI and payback periods for Village investments. Where are those questions and answers for this project? What if in 10 years this developer sells the land we give him for free for an exhorbitant profit? Shouldn't taxpayers share in the riches?? A faster approach is good -- but where are the tough questions in the meantime? What about incentives for the current businessess who will live through 18 months+ of construction??

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 3rd, 2014 4:02 PM

I think it's important to understand the history of the Colt building. It was supposed to be developed for a long time. The surface parking lot was not the original plan, and was never intended to be permanent.It was making the best of a bad situation, where the Village (aka the taxpayers) had to pay $5 million in 2006 to Taxman for that parcel when a development deal fell through.And it fell through b/c residents wanted the building restored rather than developed.A lovely but impractical idea.

Chris from OP  

Posted: May 3rd, 2014 12:59 PM

While on paper developed property brings more revenue, demolishing a popular parking lot will devastate businesses nearby. If we can't even come close to filling existing retail space, it makes no sense to create a whole lot more.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 3rd, 2014 12:46 PM

@Dont See It, Surface parking is extremely costly. The Village can bring in significantly more revenue (property tax and sales tax) on developed land. It would be financially irresponsible for this Village, because we are land-locked, to choose surface parking over a developed piece of property.

Dont see it  

Posted: May 3rd, 2014 12:26 PM

Surface parking is calling out. Take a look across Harlem at the RF Town Center. Exhibit #1. I think OP went about developing this "area" in the wrong manner. People prefer surface parking over garages any day.

Phil from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2014 7:16 AM

Re Don't see it: I'm not sure what you're seeing in the "Trader Joes" parking garage, but I often find it hard to find a free parking spot when using it. And I can NEVER find parking in the surface lot where Colt is being built. My gripe with the existing garage is that it's a bit too far from the Lake St. stores, making it less than convenient. Having another option close to Marion, the CTA/Metra line, the TGIFriday/OldNavy, and even the Whole Foods areas will be welcome relief!

Dont see it  

Posted: May 1st, 2014 4:40 PM

Surface parking is what people want. There already is a garage 100 ft from this site and NO ONE uses it. I think this could be too cramped and not utilized.

Robert Milstein from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2014 8:45 AM

This all looks good. First, I urge the review of the subsidy. Developers ask for but rarely need one, they just want one. Urban leaders believe the monetary subsidy is required. In addition, Trustee Brewer is on target. Why not a significant contribution to Oak Park organizations that promote affordable housing? I urge citizens pro, con, in-between to weigh in now. Lastly, I applaud President Abu-Taleb's business friendly approach. We need to be citizen friendly, too.


Posted: May 1st, 2014 8:38 AM

The Schwab memorial parking lot will be no more?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 30th, 2014 7:01 PM

What you need to get straight on, McWatt, are the facts. According to the state, Oak Park isn't in the top 20 of municipalities for Per-Household Financial Burden. --- Oak Park isn't in grey shape, but it's far from the worst, by any measure.

McWatt from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2014 5:59 PM

Let me get this straight: The second highest indebted community in Cook County thinks it's a brilliant idea to give already wealthy developers $11.8 million to build 248 apartments on top of the 11,000 that we already have. Plus 26,000 more square feet of retail space will somehow help fill up all the empty retail space in every corner of the rest of the community. The best part that they are keeping a secret is that in 30 years we will have to rebuild the parking garage at our expense. Superb!

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