The first rule of Oak Park fight club: You get a special use permit for Oak Park fight club.
Getting that special use permit could be the biggest battle Ultimate Fighting Championship Gym has on its hands in its efforts to open a new location at 1144 Lake St. in downtown Oak Park. The owners of the gym, which offers fitness training in mixed martial arts and boxing, also must get an allowance from a village zoning ordinance preventing such businesses from opening in the Transit-Related Retail Overlay District.
UFC Gym, which has five locations in Chicago, aims to open a sixth in a roughly 5,000-square-foot portion of the first-floor retail space in the historic Marshall Field's building vacated by Borders Books in 2011.
Nicholas Karris of Water Tower Realty Management Companies, which owns the property, said in a letter to village trustees that he has "has struggled tremendously to find a replacement tenant for the property" since Borders left.
Karris said in a telephone interview that Borders used the full 24,000 square feet of the first floor and basement level of the space, and the mere size of the property has made it difficult to find a replacement.
He said the gym would be on the northern half of the building with an entrance off of Harlem Avenue. That would leave the southern half of the first floor with an entrance off of Lake Street available for another tenant, he said.
Karris said the gym would be a benefit to the community by offering a variety of fitness classes in mixed martial arts, boxing, yoga, Pilates and nutrition, among others.
"(The proposal) will go through a discussion with the village and we look forward to making it work, given the benefit to the community," Karris said. "And because it's the Harlem side entrance, we think it could work very well and still have the retail use on the Lake Street side."
He said having a tenant at the location also would help attract other businesses to the remaining space.
"We are talking to prospects currently, and it significantly helps the leasing process when prospective tenants know what the leasing plan is for the entire building," he said.
He said in the letter to village trustees that "we are in talks with a number of signature restaurant users for the remaining space and are optimistic that we can reach a deal quickly once the rear portion of the first floor is occupied."
Karris noted that the space is not the only location UFC is considering for the gym, adding that the business hopes to have its doors open to the public by this summer.
"Timely support is necessary to bring them to the village because they are considering other locations (outside the village)," he said.
Max Austin-Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, said the board of directors of the business group has not formally discussed the proposal but that since UFC would take up the rear portion of the location "it would make the front end of the building that much more viable for tenancy."
He noted that the chain of gyms already is established throughout the country and in "vibrant communities."
Omar Rudaini, owner and CEO of UFC Gym Chicagoland, said in a letter submitted to the village board that "three of the five (Chicago area) locations are ranked within the top 10 in the country, including the No. 1 gym in the country."
"Due to the success of this group's gyms in the Chicagoland territory, the franchisor expects to expand and open six additional locations within the next year," Rudaini said.
The proposal was submitted to the Oak Park village board at Monday's village hall meeting and forwarded to the Plan Commission for further consideration.