The economic research firm studying a possible Colt restoration presented the Oak Park village board Monday night with preliminary price estimates for each of architect Henry Zimoch’s proposals for the restoration and renovation of the Colt building, 1121 and 1123 Lake St. and 1145 Westgate.

But-as Economics Research Associates’ Chris Brewer conceded during a post-presentation question-and-answer session-ERA’s analyses indicate that none of the three scenarios can be done without substantial public investment.

ERA created the estimates from the developer’s point of view, including how much of a “public incentive” would be required to bring a developer onboard for each plan.

In Scenarios A and B, which do not add condos to the top of the building, the village would likely have to offer more than $10 million to catch developer interest and still, the buildings would lose money.

Even Scenario C, which would expand the Colt building by approximately 38,000 square feet, would not generate profit, according to the estimate. Brewer said that the construction costs for three additional floors of condominiums atop the existing Colt would be about $550,000, whereas the sales price for the condos would not be more than $450,000.

“The reality there is that the building has to be taller [than proposed],” Brewer said, to make it economically viable.

Because the estimates for residential “hit the fan,” Brewer said, he and Zimoch discussed a second version of Scenario C where the basement (which in Scenario C would be used for parking) would not be renovated. That idea, too, would require a $7.1 million public incentive, so the best that Brewer could say about Scenario C was that it had the lowest negative return.

After the presentation, Trustee Greg Marsey asked Zimoch, who was at the podium, to clarify.

“Let me get this straight: none of the financial scenarios generate black ink?” Marsey asked.

Zimoch turned to Brewer, who shook his head morosely in reply, and somberly shook his head, too.

Board president David Pope asked whether there was a break-even point for adding residential space to the Colt. Brewer said that there might be, but that his fear would be that Zimoch would have architectural concerns.

Other board members questioned the accuracy of the ERA estimates after the meeting. Trustee Bob Milstein, who supported the historical preservation of the Colt building when knocking it down was discussed, pointed to lower cost estimates made by another company last fall and said that the analyses presented Monday evening may not have been as cost-efficient as they should have been. Despite the disheartening economic forecast, Milstein is as pro-historic preservation as he had ever been.

“A community lives off its character, its history, and sense of place,” he said, “We could rebuild the whole thing, but that’s not who we are.”

The board is taking its month-long summer break in August but plans to revisit the issue in September after reading through Zimoch’s and ERA’s draft reports. The reports, which include the history of the buildings involved in the Colt project; drawings for each redevelopment scenario; the review of the public participation process; and office, retail and residential market analysis; are now available on the village’s website, http://www.oak-park.us/Community_Services/Planning_Colt_Westgate.htm, then click on “July 31, 2006 Village Board study session agenda.”

Scenario A would entail restoring the Colt building’s facades, reopening the pedestrian arcade, and installing a new storefront at the first-floor level of the 1123 Lake St. building. All the buildings included in the Colt project (the Colt itself, 1121 and 1123 Lake St. and 1145 Westgate) would be gutted and remodeled. Its estimated remodeling cost is more than $10 million.

Scenario B includes all of Scenario A, plus restoration of the facade of 1123 Lake St. and the addition of an east wing on Westgate that was planned, but never constructed, in the 1930s because of the Great Depression. Its estimated cost is $11.8 million.

Scenario C includes all of Scenario A and adds three floors of condominiums to the Colt building. Its estimated cost is $17.9 million.

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