Turmoil at Lake and Forest

Opinion: Columns

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It was seven years ago that Sertus Capital Partners plunked down a staggering $9 million for a postage stamp-sized parcel at the high-visibility intersection of Lake and Forest in Downtown Oak Park. That was a lot of money then and when the real estate market shuddered and collapsed not long after that, the price became an albatross.

Couple that with the albatross of frozen capital markets, a developer battling legal and financial woes on other projects, and one of Oak Park's patented endless development processes, and, well, that's a lot of albatrosses.

Too much dead weight it appears this week as the project has picked up additional downhill momentum in the form of a $4.9 million lawsuit against the developers by its lender, PNC Bank; more missed construction deadlines in its pact with Oak Park's village government; and the apparent departure from the firm of its lead person, Michael Glazier.

Where does this leave the project — notable for its height at 20 stories and its partnership with the village government in replacing a decrepit public parking garage adjacent to the parcel?

In a troubled and uncertain place, that's for sure.

As we reported last week, the village has now sent warning letters to Sertus over missed deadlines and the developer's attorney responded with a surprising announcement that it has found a development partner on the Oak Park project, Tampa's notable DeBartolo Development, and was requesting yet another 180-day extension.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek asked for evidence and details of this 11th hour partnership and raised the $64,000 question: If a partial ownership transfer has already taken place, does that shift require the OK of the village board? And if deadlines have already passed, can the new ownership team move ahead and build the project already painfully approved via Oak Park's bludgeoning public processes?

Depending on how real the new investment turns out to be, it may come down to the question of whether this village board wants a fresh start on a project that was conceived in another economic era and which does have local detractors. Or, with a deal in place for a signature development which meets the goals of added residential density near downtown, added retail space at a prime corner, and new public parking, will they continue to bend and extend deadlines — to say nothing of a desire to avoid starting the entire development process over anew.

Absent more detailed information, we don't have an answer this week, though we are content with our strong previous support for this notable development. We do know that with all the scabs now readily apparent, it is time for total transparency by the village on these discussions. Who is who? What is what? And how much?

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 11th, 2013 2:16 PM

A 2010 Quote from David Barsotti, a former village resident who opposed the Sertus Building. I post the quote because while there are some that think that it is convenient to just take allow Sertus to select another developer and get the ground broken. But there are other things to consider before jumping off a bridge. For instance; what is the Villages revenue value projection for the development in 2013 considering David's quote? QUOTE The village boards projections of tax revenue assume that the 85 condominium units will sell for an average price of $611,000, and contradict the developers testimony that it hopes to sell the units for an average price of less than $500,000. This is significantly more than the two-year old report submitted by the developer as its own market feasibility study states that new condominiums in the area should be priced to sell for an average of only $363,000. In the current real estate market, however, hundreds of units remain unsold and prices have now fallen well below even those underlying the developers dated study. END QUOTE

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 10th, 2013 10:34 PM

Dan - I am not opposed to the project continuing if 1) the 20 story building still makes sense, 2) There is a contract with the developer that states the progress of the financial support is on schedule, 3) that extensions will only be extended if accompanied by a bond covering Oak Park Village projected tax revenue losses, 4) the board investigates the Sertus Project in detail to identify problems that caused delays and identify solutions. As far as residents getting too involved in project development; I think most residents would welcome that. That is when we can trust the judgment of the board and staff. Remember, Sertus was chosen by four board members despite the Plan Commission's No vote.

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