“Justify the condominiums,” said an audience member to the architect leading study of how to rehab the Colt building in Downtown Oak Park.

Evidently, one of the approximately 60 citizens who attended last week’s public input meeting found it inconsistent that one of the plans for historical restoration and renovation of the Colt building includes adding new floors on top.

The July 11 meeting was the first time that architect Henry Zimoch’s three proposals for the building’s new look were discussed alongside floor plans. It was also the last opportunity for villagers to offer their opinions of the proposals, as Zimoch’s firm, Hasbrouck Peterson Zimoch Sirirattumrong (HPZS), hoped to determine which ones Oak Parkers would find most appealing before starting the economic analyses the team will present to the village board on July 31.

Zimoch’s first two proposals-Scenarios A and B- were better received by residents. Scenario A calls for façade restoration, a pedestrian arcade and remodeling. Scenario B includes all the elements of the first plan plus the construction of an east wing which was part of the building’s original plan but was never built due to the onset of the Depression in 1929. The third option includes the restoration and expansion plus the addition of three floors of condominiums.

One villager asked, “Under Scenario A, the Colt building will be restored to its 1933-34 state?” Zimoch answered affirmatively. “So,” the man continued, “Scenario A is a re-creation of the Colt building, Scenario B is the re-creation as intended, and C is the re-creation of something that was never the Colt building.”

This description was met with laughter from the audience and some protesting from the architect, who had earlier had a similar exchange with another audience member.

“C is not restoration, is it?” that man had asked. “Well,” said Zimoch, “it’s restoration plus.” Audience members wondered aloud if the “restoration plus” would end up looking like the “flying saucer” at Soldier Field.

The audience also had serious questions about the viability of Scenario C, specifically, whether Zimoch’s firm had conducted engineering studies to determine whether the Colt’s foundation could support another three stories.

Zimoch said his firm had not made such an analysis, and later clarified by e-mail that his firm had not determined whether the building’s concrete footings below the basement floor could support three additional stories.

“We have analyzed the capability of the structure above the basement floor and … determined that it can support the additional stories,” Zimoch wrote, but because of the lack of information about the footings, HPZS assumes that they were designed to carry only the load of the existing building.

The cost estimate for Scenario C, he added, should include the “necessary expense for supplementing the structure in order to carry the additional residential load.”

Additional support could be created by increasing the width of the concrete footings, or using columns on each floor.

The lack of economic projections about each scenario’s cost was a significant point of contention during the meeting. A woman who identified herself as an architect and C.P.A. asked, “How can we examine scenarios without economic feasibility? …these are lovely pictures, but we can’t evaluate these plans on visuals.”

The plans have already been changed by public criticism. Scenario C will no longer include plans for a new street, which proved unpopular in June focus groups and a 201-person randomized survey of villagers in Downtown Oak Park (see sidebar). The survey also found a majority of respondents against adding condos to the Colt.

Restaurants top new business wish list

An abridged version follows of the 201-person randomized survey conducted by McClure Communications on June 24 to gauge opinions on proposed changes to the Colt building. Complete results are at www.oak-park.us, and click on “Departments,” then “Planning,” then “Colt Building Study.”

What types of new business would you like to see in the Colt building or in Downtown Oak Park in general?

(Respondents could offer up to three suggestions for new businesses. Thirteen percent did not respond.)

  • Restaurants 20%
  • Clothing store 15%
  • Small specialty store 13%
  • Shoe store 8%
  • Grocery store 8%
  • Hardware store 7%
  • Boutiques 6%
  • Anything locally owned 6%
  • All other responses 17%

(Included coffee shop, hobby store, home furnishing, sports, entertainment, dollar store, bank, office support, large retail, hotel and hair salon.)

Corner Bakery and a bar or pub were commonly mentioned restaurants.

Pollsters report that a frequently heard comment was “I want stores like [those] in Forest Park.”

One idea for the Colt building is to develop condos above street level. Do you believe that is a good idea?

53% answered no. Respondents often explained by saying that parking was a big issue downtown and that condos would make the situation worse.

-Elena Levenson

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