The Village of Oak Park is poised to begin the redevelopment of the downtown superblock with two processes: one to build a North Boulevard parking garage that will include a traffic and streetscape plan, and one to determine the fate of the Colt Building.
The village will issue two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to find consultants to lead the processes.
The village board Monday night debated at length over the timeline of the processes, set to begin and end roughly simultaneously with construction and restoration work pegged to begin in early 2007.
President David Pope pointed out that time is money. According to a village document, the village will pay approximately $278,000 in interest each of the four years it holds a bond issued to buy the Colt. The village also plans to hire a firm to manage its properties downtown and throughout the village. Each month of delay would cost taxpayers at least $85,000.
Pope also balked at the village staff-proposed timeline because it would not produce a market test on the true cost of saving the Colt until November.
“So, we have no idea what size chunk we are biting off until November, which is of significant concern to me,” Pope said.
Because the Colt is a village-owned property, any redevelopment plans must follow the village’s newly adopted participatory planning process, meaning before a firm can assess costs of saving the building, it must determine what stakeholders want. That could mean a full restoration to its original arcade form, or a partial restoration in its current filled-in form.
Text of a draft RFP for the Colt says the goal is “to develop priorities and as much consensus as possible on the project,” however few use options have been as divisive as those for the Colt property, with many on each side calling for restoration or demolition in favor of a new street.
Trustee Ray Johnson cautioned against speeding the process up too much. To do so would open the board and whatever results reached by a consultant to criticism for being rushed, prompting further delays.
“Speed to me is not the answer,” agreed Trustee Robert Milstein. The board agreed to try to move quickly, but not to substantially crunch the processes’ timelines.
Johnson did urge moving ahead with development in general. Responding to a Johnson inquiry, village finance director Greg Peters said there is some concern about the value of the TIF fund. In 2003 the village agreed to a carve-out deal with school districts and other taxing bodies. In exchange for extending the life of the TIF, the village removes properties from the TIF, putting them back on the tax rolls, giving taxing bodies a needed financial lift.
The Whiteco project planned for the southeast corner of Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street is the biggest parcel tabbed for carve out in the 12 remaining years of the TIF. Currently tied up in closed-door negotiations, the redeveloped property is supposed to hit the tax rolls in two years. If it’s nowhere near completion by then, the village’s need to carve out $20 million in assessed value could cripple the TIF.
Pope pointed out that assessed values of buildings in the TIF are appreciating faster than projected in 2003, providing an offsetting force to dwindling TIF value. For example, in a carve out this year, the village needed to remove just half of the properties it anticipated having to because of higher property values.
The garage RFP calls for a consultant to develop a plan for a roughly 500-space parking garage that may or may not include first-floor retail and/or residential condos above. That process, too, will incorporate public participation, and the two consultants will coordinate their work, making recommendations on two village-owned buildings (1119 and 1121 Lake Street) and 1145 Westgate, which may be purchased from the same developers who sold the village the Colt building.
The garage RFP also calls for consultants to look at the possibility of relocating North Boulevard between Marion Street and Forest Avenue so the area to the south up to the elevated train tracks could be developed.
Other projects are charted, too. Perhaps the first true example of the participatory planning process will be seen in the development of the village-owned properties at and near the southeast corner of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard. The village issued an RFP on those properties near the time the previous village board chose RSC to develop the project under construction now just east of Chipotle on Lake Street, however nothing came of responses to that RFP.
In the summer the village also plans to begin discussions with the real estate investment trust that owns the Shops of Downtown Oak Park. Eventually the village would like to redevelop those properties.