Enraged, OK bemused, over Whiteco

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

I am sitting here enraged by news that Whiteco, the Merrillville, Indiana-based company, is attempting to sell Whiteco, the butt-ugly apartment building on Harlem Avenue. At least I'm trying hard to be enraged. It feels like I should be. Enraged. Furious. Really mad. Certainly decidedly annoyed.

So why, then, am I bemused? Mind you I'm talking bemused in a really hard, tough as toenails, sort of way. Don't mess with me now because I think Whiteco is the ultimate bemusing example of an Oak Park detonation of every well-intentioned, not-nearly-as-smart-as-we-think-we-are, who-died-and-made-you-an-architect, TIF-playground, politically-egomaniacal, newspaper-failing morass we've ever pulled off.

Simply, Oak Park deserves Whiteco. We deserve to have it sit there in all its Moscow concrete monstrosity for the next 75 years, or as long as is the natural life of concrete monstrosities.

Defenders of Whiteco, or Oak Park Place Apartments as it is now actively marketed, will point to Trader Joe's, allegedly the highest volume Trader Joe's in all the land. And it is true that when you are actually inside that store, you can forget for a moment that above you is the twin of the Pravda headquarters, that below you is what used to be a perfectly good surface parking lot that Oak Park gave up too cheap, that you parked in a too tall garage which is already crumbling.

But what a good deal on crab legs!

Further, Whiteco defenders will say its high-end apartments — $1,240 for a 478-square-foot studio, $2,550 for a 1,267-square-foot two bedroom — have leased up pretty well after a somewhat slow start, probably owing to the economy. I might lease an apartment there, too, just so I don't have to look at the exterior.

The reality is, though, that Oak Park had the ultimate control of this project since the village owned all the land, set the specifications, solicited the bids and had money on the table. And through bad staffing and worse politics, this is what we wound up with. A bad building with unfavorable and still too cloudy finances.

Unfavorable from the village's perspective, that is. Given the splendid entrepreneurial history of Mr. Dean White — yes, he of the Forbes billionaire list (actually tied with Oprah one year) — I'm thinking Whiteco Residential will come out of this deal just fine. The company, of which Whiteco Residential is but a small, spun-off part, has humble roots decades ago as a billboard company in Indiana. This branch of the tree focuses on building luxury apartment buildings. There are only six of them currently listed on the company website. Two are in Connecticut. The others stretch from Florida to Virginia to La Quinta, California.

And now, with the economy finally turning brighter, Whiteco's Oak Park building went on the market just last week. Assuming it sells at a good price, and I imagine it will, it is a good sign of Oak Park's economic vigor and appeal. There's no upside in wishing this project ill at this point. In fact, Whiteco execs get points for having survived the endless and absurd process Oak Park put them through. And the building they first proposed, while jumbo, was better looking than the stark, grey façade we wound up staring endlessly at.

The only question is whether we learned anything from the enraging, now bemusing, spectacle of the Whiteco half-decade? Maybe. While there are always critics, the highrise planned at Lake and Forest is stunningly better looking and it resulted — if it ever gets built — from a more rational and public process.

Not perfect. But better.


Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Posted: May 14th, 2012 2:55 PM

The real question should be, was Whiteco worth the effort and cost to the Oak Park taxpayers? I would say "No" given that Oak Park taxpayers gave Whiteco over $3.5 million in direct cash subsidies to build the Soviet style building. This does not include the land giveaway and numerous variances that depressed surrounding property values. I know PoJo and Co. would say yes, but I think they are a minority.


Posted: May 11th, 2012 8:30 AM

Not sure why OP "deserves" Whiteco. Our trustees have a long history of investing in projects the taxpayers don't want. There seems to be no way to change this. Candidates for trustee carefully conceal their views so voting becomes a frustrating, "dart-board" exercise.


Posted: May 9th, 2012 9:00 PM

There is a parking lot there now. There will be a parking lot there after it is built. Nothing is or will be given away. The only thing that is given is the air rights above the land to build on top of the parking lot. Do we have to go here again?

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 2:18 PM

@Laughing, Ray Johnson already explained it, but he hasn't explained why he wants to give Tax Payers land away for free.


Posted: May 9th, 2012 1:51 PM

If they've already "invested" in the corner of Lake/Forest why is there nothing there to show for it? It could be a temporary dog park, a skate park, a flower garden, a pop up market. Instead we have a place to dump snow while we wait & see if anything ever gets built.


Posted: May 9th, 2012 1:34 PM

Sertus paid $10 Million for the property at Lake and Forest so they have already invested money in this corner. Dan, what do you think of the concrete plant at Harlem and Garfield, Mohr cement?

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 11:45 AM

Ray Johnson, thank you for correcting my misinformation. So I should be saying Sertus has a promise from the Village of Oak Park to give him the tax payers land once he has secured the money to build. Why would you want to give away land? Oak Park doesn't need to attract builders. Oak Park isn't positioned in the wilderness needing to lure in businesses. Don't say it will be a fantastic investment because that's a very worn out record. Oak Park is a fantastic Village. Don't give it away.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 10:46 AM

@ Q: Your information as stated is not correct. The Village has transferred no land to Sertus Development and will not do so until financing for the project is indeed in place. I'm aware of the developer going through the permit process which is the next step in advance of finalizing investors, of which he has stated he has interest. The VOP will verify the structure of the deal, including investors and will not close on any deal until then. The Village will continue to own 300 parking spaces.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 12:15 AM

Cont... You follow Oak Park's doings more they most anyone else, tell me why I have everything wrong about this. Make it simple so I can understand, and maybe a few other tax payers who care can understand too. Why you are at it, maybe you can find out why the railroad timber being used to support part of the edge of the parking lot across the street from the Marion street "L", never gets repaired and presents a risk to people walking by there.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 12:12 AM

Cont... Land given by the elected board without many Oak Park tax payers knowing about it. The reason Oak Park tax payers don't know about it is they would never expect the trustee's of their tax dollars to do something like that. So now you say what the question is if we have learned anything from Whiteco? Yes of course, the village does stupid things and it will continue and no the Lake and Forest will not be built but the tax payers land is still in the hands of Sertus. Cont...

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 12:09 AM

Dan, you mention the economy is getting better. What are the statistics on that? Lets compare Whiteco and the Sertus project at Lake and Forest Avenue. Whiteco had to purchase the parking lot, and Sertus was giving, yes... giving the land to build the project on. You mention if it does ever get built. It will not be built because there are no investors. The land was given to Sertus so Sertus could use it as their personal investment into the deal to raise investors. Village owned ... Cont...

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2012 11:46 PM

Could not agree more. In fact, it is time we put the Whitco issue behind us. No more praising its success or slamming it deficiencies. No more debating its history. Let it be Oak Park Place Apartments and be done with it! There are enough development issues to debate in 2013. We don't need another campaign of Whiteco slamming. Let's have an agreement that the first person that mentions Whiteco again, has to paint the word TIF a 1,000 times on the walls of the Oak Park underpass!

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