One of downtown Oak Park's largest property owners took aim last week at plans to bring a trade college to three floors of the former Marshall Field's building. Seymour Taxman, CEO of the Taxman Corporation, told the Oak Park Plan Commission that Corinthian College and its 300 students would clog already limited parking in the area.
"If this board wants to encourage retail in Oak Park, this use (of space) is not productive," said Taxman. Taxman is the developer of the Old Navy and Pier One retail stores across the street from the Field's site.
In the end, the Plan Commission agreed to recommend a Special Use Permit for the college while requiring stiff regulation of the parking and general transportation options for its students.
If the plan commission's recommendation is ultimately approved by the Oak Park village board, it will allow Corinthian College to open a branch in the top three floors of the Field's building at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue. Corinthian has 139 branches across the country.
Collette Lueck, plan commission chair, said her panel will draft a "Findings of Fact" review at its next meeting and forward a final version to the village board.
The commission agreed that before the new campus would be allowed to open, Corinthian must create a policy to sanction students who violate parking requirements set by the college. Any parking permits for the Holley Court Garage issued to students and faculty must only be good on the fourth and fifth floors of the garage. The college must also secure a deal with U-Pass, a pass available through the CTA that offers full-time college students at certain universities unlimited rides on all CTA busses and trains. The college must adhere to all of the Landmark Preservation Council's regulations regarding new signage on the building and the college must comply with a village-appointed person to monitor the extra traffic from the college and resolve any issues that arise.
At the hearing on June 16, Taxman testified in opposition to the Special Use Permit. He said he worried that the estimated 300 students who would attend daily would bring in more auto traffic than a traditional office or retail use of the space, and that allowing a college to move into that space would set back the past 12 years of progress in downtown Oak Park.
Taxman said he has attempted in the past to purchase the Field's building from its current owner Water Tower Realty. But, he said, he has no plans to pursue that option.
Corinthian College, Inc. is a nation-wide education company with an emphasis on career training in healthcare, business, criminal justice and information services. According to the college's web site, it has 139 campuses in 22 states and seven Canadian provinces. There are 70,000 students in its system. The company, which employs 7,000 people, was founded in 1995 and went public in 1999.
College under investigation in California
Corinthian College is facing allegations in California that it has misrepresented itself to students and investors. In February 2005, the Orange County Register reported that former employees of Corinthian Colleges, Inc. alleged that the company "routinely falsified students' financial-aid applications in order to win federal funds." In the lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of Corinthian shareholders, the former employees also claimed that Corinthian allegedly manipulated attendance records and altered student grades to keep them eligible for federal aid.
In 2003, Corinthian's Bryman College in San Jose was placed under suspension by the U.S. Department of Education, and was required to return $776,241 to the department, said the college's spokesperson Lorraine Kayhill. Kayhill made the comments during a presentation last week to the Oak Park Plan Commission. According to a May 2005 press release from the college, there were no fines or penalties enforced and Bryman is still eligible to receive Title IV student financial aid funds. In her presentation, Kayhill said that the acts in question were undertaken by lower-level staff who have since been disciplined.
According to Tom Presslar, spokesperson for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the Attorney General's office is gathering documents and conducting interviews for an investigation of whether the school has misled students in the quality of education they provide. Presslar could not comment on the progress of the investigation or say when it will conclude.
Since mid-May, Corinthian College's publicly traded shares have risen steadily from $14.50 to $16.50. Kayhill said the college is now recommended as a strong buy or hold by many stock analysts.