Oak Park has always taken a liking to diversity.
And now it very well may have several choices to ponder as the village government begins exploring how to redevelop the Colt Building site and adjacent property near the western edge of downtown Oak Park.
On Monday the village board heard a broad proposal from Clark Street Development, the "preferred developer" for the site. That mixed use proposal called for a combination of retail, luxury apartments and parking on the site which stretches from Lake Street to North Boulevard.
Trustees then voted to also seek alternative proposals for the 81,000 square foot area rather than strictly remain with Clark Street Development.
The Chicago-based firm was tapped in 2007 as the preferred developer to recast the area, which now principally consists of two popular surface parking lots.
A request seeking proposals from other firms will be sent out later this week; proposals will be due back in early June, Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said.
Clark Street was selected in a competitive process, one of the many requirements for development in a Tax Increment Finance district. But officials felt strongly that especially because the economic world has changed since 2007, the board needed additional due diligence to ensure the best use of the space, said Loretta Daly, Oak Park's manager of business services.
"We want to get to see what's out there," Daly said.
Economic conditions have changed dramatically since Clark Street was tapped. As some conversations began, a major recession hit, halting development almost everywhere. Throughout that time, the village still kept up the relationship with the firm, Daly said. No financial negotiations had taken place and no specific concepts had been explored, she added.
With the improvement of the economy in recent months, discussions had begun anew, Daly said. And Clark Street had proposed bringing forward to the board a concept for the site.
That development concept, presented Monday night, would include retail, as many as 250 apartments, a structured parking garage and a long promised new road – Station Street - that would link North Boulevard and Lake Street.
Clark Street's Andy Stein said the parcel nearest Lake Street would focus on retail with three or four floors of apartments on top. Across Westgate, a structure including parking, apartments and possibly some retail would be built. Stein said a bridge would connect the north and south ends of the development. No estimates of the height of the south structure were offered.
Stein estimated the total investment in the project at $70 million to $80 million.
The layout would allow for multiple access points to Metra, the CTA Green Line and allow for both walking and auto access, said Stein. "It would be complementary to the existing retail in the area," he added.
The village bought the 1930s-era Colt Building for nearly $5 million in 2006 after the village and the building owner could not agree on a redevelopment plan for the property. A slim majority of village trustees and preservationists hoped to save it and return it to its original art-deco arcade style with small shops.
Eventually that structure and two other adjoining buildings were razed in 2009. The area then was turned into temporary surface parking as Oak Park waited to develop the site. It has been parking ever since.