By Anna Lothson
Seven properties on Harrison Street in Oak Park are officially on the market, and included with them is the opportunity for a fresh start following years of controversy stemming from the management of current owner, Chris Kleronomos. All seven buildings are currently in foreclosure.
The issue hit full storm last August when the facade of the 201 Harrison Street building came crashing down. That led to the village fining Kleronomos for hiring workers to do unpermitted work by removing parts of the building's façade, a 1920s era building that suffered much structural damage as a result.
Village President David Pope expressed hope Monday that a potential sale of the buildings will open a path for wider renewal of the Arts District along Harrison Street.
Reconstruction of the brick structure casing the outside of that building was recently completed, but there's no indication of when the inside components will be finished. This has left the former commercial tenants and nearby business without answers, only hoping for the best as to when they can restart their ventures.
Laura Maychruk, a real estate broker in the village, and owner of Buzz Café — a neighbor adjacent to the Harrison Street buildings — spoke with a representative from National Reality Network, the company listing the currently foreclosed properties, and was able to confirm the listing prices.
The property at 200 Harrison is listed the highest at $2.5 million and 201 Harrison is listed at $1.95 million, as of last week. The others are listed around the same price, ranging from around $960,000 to $1.99 million for the various retail and condo spaces.
Some real estate experts have suggested that the asking prices are inordinately high considering overall real estate market conditions.
According to Al Coulolias, a vice president at National Reality Network, the properties are technically still in Kleronomos' hands. Coulolias said he is unsure about the specifics on the 201 Harrison building, but said his knowledge indicated the tenants have expressed interest in moving back into the four retail spaces. He said was unable to provide details about when construction will be done since he merely represents his client, but did indicate progress has been made inside.
The property at 201 Harrison, along with the others, is just one of several on the market under Kleronomos' ownership that are currently in foreclosure, according to court documents. The properties were put in foreclosure when he fell behind on a $3.5 million construction loan, for which he put 201-211 Harrison up as collateral, along with several other nearby properties.
Kleronomos has been unreachable by phone to comment on the matter despite multiple attempts. The court-appointed receiver for the properties has also been unreachable by phone.
The biggest challenges for Maychruk's business have been the lack of parking available and decreased visibility because of the construction equipment. But her loyal customers still come, and others seem willing to make the extra effort.
"It's been annoying more than anything," she said. "But it hasn't affected business."
Even Maychruk, however, wishes she knew when the project would be done. She said it's a constant conversation at the café.
"I hope that building is fixed up and occupied as soon as possible. Everyone is thinking that," she said, with hopes of what the change can do for the district. "I'm hoping there is some movement — that there will be potentially a new owner."
As of Monday evening, it was news to Village President David Pope, but he said he was glad to see progress on the buildings.
"For a long time we hoped and anticipated those properties ought to be returned to full utilization in ways that would benefit the Harrison Street corridor and the entire Oak Park community," said Pope, who grew up in that neighborhood. "The prospect of those properties being fully fixed and utilized would be a positive contribution for all of southeast Oak Park and our entire community."
The successful completion of the buildings would drastically help Matt Kwilas, the owner of Prodigy Glass Works that was housed at 201 Harrison. He has been out of work for more than a year because of the collapse.
"One word: purgatory," is what he described the past year as. "I'm patiently waiting at the mercy of I don't even know who. I don't even know how it's going to end. It may end good, it may end bad."
Kwilas said he's also concerned for the condition of the interior of his store since he has expensive, heavy duty glass blowing equipment and ovens that are nearly impossible to move. Because of those materials associated with his businesses, and the funds he's lost due to the debacle, moving is out of the question.
The $60,000 investment he initially put into the equipment and building left his business thriving and his client base increasing. He hopes he can eventually recoup some of what's been lost.
"I've been here for four years. People know where I am," Kwilas said. "It would be a shame to lose again or lose the Oak Park area. …All my savings gone. I need some time to do catch up. Still, here I am – not in business."
Oak Park architect Tom Bassett-Dilley, who was brought on the project to design the spruced-up front side of 201 Harrison following the collapse, said the builders for the current project have been "fantastic." He's confident the work is finally being done properly and up to code, leaving the building as secure as ever.
Because the old building had stacked bricks to support the face of it, new technology allows for a steel reinforcement beam to provide lateral stability.
"The wall itself will have more structural integrity," Bassett-Dilley said. He noted that the structural engineers involved with the project are taking necessary steps to avoid the building's failed past. "It's very innovative. It's going to stand up for a long time."
The building was once known for its terra cotta finishing touches, but the replacement costs of such materials were beyond the price the bank holding the foreclosed building was willing to undertake because of financial and scheduling reasons. Instead, the more modern brick was chosen with the hope that it still maintains the building's architectural integrity. Overall, he said the completion of the building will be a positive step for the district.
"It's like a look ahead. This has been a real troubled zone," Bassett-Dilley said. "I was excited to be part of something that was more looking forward instead of looking back."