If there is any hope that the Colt property in downtown Oak Park is going to be redeveloped anytime soon – let alone that a development agreement will be inked in six weeks, as is the stated goal – then we must all agree on one thing: Oak Park is going to take a notable haircut on the tax money paid to assemble this large parcel.
That's not because the current village board is going to throw money wildly at the chosen development firm. It is because multiple past village boards spent wildly to buy up the various properties along Lake Street and Westgate, because one board made a ridiculous political bet and then got bit by it when a developer called its bluff, and because, after the supersized recession we've endured, any owner of property purchased between 2002 and 2008 is going to have to absorb a major financial hit.
We've been over these issues ad nauseum. We've had village boards play Monopoly with our downtown even though with our fetish for endless planning, there never really was a plan for what happened after the village cored out the center of downtown's most vital block. The board kept buying parcels and it overpaid each and every time.
Then in a standoff with a developer at the ready to build on all available village-owned properties in and near the downtown, the board recklessly entered a ticking bomb pact with the developer which required the village to overpay (5 million bucks) for property if they didn't come to terms. This is a deal which reminds us of sequestration in Washington, D.C. Make a deal on terms so ludicrous it would force all parties to the table. Oops in D.C. Oops in Oak Park.
The political nonsense on those village boards led to a squandering of what in retrospect were clearly the glory years of commercial deal-making. We missed the window because we were stuck in politics and in process.
Now we have a new board working with great urgency and, it appears, a clear majority of votes in favor of getting a project built. Clark Street Development and its residential real estate partner seem more than credible and have already agreed to a project that will, seemingly, steer clear of divisive debate over building heights.
Most critically, that leaves money and parking to be negotiated in the coming weeks. As bitter a pill as it is, we want to see the village board and Oak Park's residents, swallow hard and get past the money. Parking is going to be the tough and expensive aspect of these discussions. Focus the time and angst there.
What's essential now is to move quickly and get an acceptable development in the ground. Then the attention of this newly energized village board can be, at least partially, redirected beyond downtown Oak Park.