By Dan Haley
At least a few people around town remember that the Oak Park village board set a very firm deadline of Feb. 28 for proof positive that developers — some developer, any developers — had obtained financing to build the tall, shiny high-rise at Lake and Forest.
And so on Monday evening, in a sly nod to that reality, the village board went through the ruse of Village Manager Cara Pavlicek publicly reporting that the Feb. 28 deadline had been met. Golub and Company — perhaps, I guess, the successor to the Lake Street Partners firm that bombed out on the project — sent a letter to the village saying it had financing in place, had a senior construction loan. And the village manager pronounced this to be a "very positive step" and offered assurances that "we will continue to inform the public."
Trustee Bob Tucker, acting as president pro tem, asked his colleagues if they had any comments or questions. None did. And so the board went on to appoint a bunch of nice people to some very nice village commissions.
There was, though, a question that any of the village trustees might have asked. A question the village manager might have just answered.
What does it mean for a developer to have financing to build a project on a piece of land it does not own? As of now, the corner of Lake and Forest is owned by PNC Bank. The bank took it in a foreclosure action against Lake Street Partners/Sertus Capital, the original buyers of the corner lot.
The deadline set by the village board in dramatic fashion back in October was intended to force developers to get serious about financing but also to wrestle the property back from the bank. That hasn't happened yet, despite a lot of sincere and intense effort.
Some in village government seem to believe that PNC is more likely to cave on the price it wants for the site if the village government cozies up to Golub and pretends that everything is on course. That might work in the private sector but this is government, where business is intended to happen in public, especially after pledges of transparency, especially after years of extensions on this project.
Don't get me wrong. I want this project built. I like its size and its design. I like the permanent fix it creates for the crumbling village parking garage that wraps snugly around the corner site. I like the upscale apartments it sets at the edge of our downtown. I like village government deciding to place its bet on a first-class developer such as Golub.
But fibbing, omitting facts, insulting the intelligence of citizens doesn't work. All that was necessary here was for Village President Anan Abu-Taleb to step forward publicly and say the good news is that Golub is now fully on board, that financing is finally coming together but that that this remains a complex financial deal with a tussle continuing over ownership of the property between the developer and the bank. In the meantime, he could say, the village board has decided to informally extend the development agreement and to stand with the developer because all involved want to see this project built.
Is there a guarantee this project will happen? No. But coming out the other end of the project with this new administration's integrity intact should be of paramount importance.