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."